Endangered Waterbirds and Wind Farms on West Maui Mountains


I have to question the positioning of the over forty windmills operated by First Wind on the ridge of the West Maui Mountains. Looking at the siting at different places along the ridge, some of the turbines appear to be located in a migratory fly zone.

You can see the tops of the West Maui windmills as you drive toward Maalaea on the road to West Maui. They are very close to the bird sanctuary at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge. If you read studies done by First Wind, they contend that before they break ground, the “dedicated team of specialists conducts detailed environmental surveys to analyze and document existing conditions, from bird migration to wetlands. When siting wind turbines, we carefully take these resources into account in order to protect local habitats.”


Of course, any company facing criticism by environmentalists and conservationists would most likely say the same things. The American Birding Conservancy (ABC) was first on the scene as First Wind was to be issued “an Incidental Take Permit under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that would have authorized the deaths of three threatened bird species – the Hawaiian Petrel, Newell’s Shearwater, and Hawaiian Goose – in order to expand the Kaheawa wind project.” ABC’s actions to ensure improvement helped alleviate some loss by advising on siting the structures. (source)


On ABC’s site above, I read something rather startling. “Given that Hawai‘i is already the bird extinction capital of the world, it is critical that wind farms in Hawai‘i be bird-smart.” Gee, makes one take pause.


First Wind generates about 9% of the power by wind on Maui, with oil being the most used fuel to date, but do they interfere with the migrating birds at this preserve?

There is a lot in the news about wind turbines and wind farms. Many people champion them because it is alternative, clean fuel. The turbines are positioned to harness the wind, but have been responsible for the death of eagles, hawks, migrating songbirds and now bats here in the US, so I did wonder how they affect birds in Maui.

Wind farm operators could face prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for every migratory bird their turbines kill, but to date, I could not find where anyone was. What I read, “enforcement of the law has to do with intent, not involuntary killing of the birds.” One Fish and Wildlife Service study suggested that “as many as 440,000 birds are killed by wind turbines every year.” The turbines are positioned to harness the wind, but have been responsible for the bird and bat deaths.


Here in Buffalo, there are also wind turbines located very near wildlife sanctuaries. At least these structures are not atop mountains.


It seems the more of them I see are positioned on mountains and along waterways which also appear to be sited along migration routes. Those located lower to the ground on pastural  farmland are usually out of the migration fly zones. I never did witness a bird strike though.


I know there has been improvement in their siting and design, but how does that affect those installed prior to the knowledge of them killing migrating birds? It just so happens that the wind patterns and speed turning the turbines also are those beneficial to migration birds. It makes economical sense that is where to locate the turbines for optimal wind flow.

So what do you think? Or a better question, who or what is more important? On one hand energy needs are increasing for a ballooning world population and wind and solar are a clean energy source. On the other hand, wildlife is decreasing from habitat loss. So what is the answer?

On GWGT, Bloggers’ Fixation With Weather and some pretty shots of fog.

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27 Responses to Endangered Waterbirds and Wind Farms on West Maui Mountains

  1. lucindalines says:

    Good points and questions.

    • donna213 says:

      I can only question because both sides reporting bird deaths really have different numbers. Like all ecological issues, the sides rarely agree. I do believe the findings on eagles though. Eagles are looking down often when flying looking for food, so running into the blades seems likely. Songbirds mostly migrate at night, so for them to run into them makes sense too. Bats must be attracted by both movement and the sound they make. I never did see why they get killed by them.

  2. alesiablogs says:

    I do not like to see our wildlife killed in this way at all, but I bet you more are killed from the conventional power lines. I had heard that the wind farms may be waived from the laws you bring up so this may have been why you did not come across any prosecutions. Also, I read that a good 30% of renewable energy on the Hawaiian Islands does come from wind farms. That’s a big chunk of really good work that this state is responsible for. So for your question of what is more important? It is above my pay grade. haha

    • donna213 says:

      With a law based on intent, it really is a hollow law in the case of the companies. With all the ecological and habitat studies they must do to meet regulations and get permits to build, the law becomes void for them. Having satisfied all the regulatory bureaucracy of a building project proves no intent I am guessing. I read 9% but that was from an energy company if I remember the source. The 30% was what they are aiming for in the near future as more of these are going up on the island. Maybe my source was outdated, but I thought it was current.

      • alesiablogs says:

        I was not saying your 9% was incorrect. I was mentioning the 30% as overall for all the islands combined. So Maui may very well be 9% and the other 7 may be a lot higher. I know the other islands “send” their energy to Oahu. Maybe i misunderstood what I was looking at….Any WHOOOO– I can remember as a child how hard HI had trouble importing some items therefore the cost for that item was so HIGH. We drank powdered milk just because of that problem! Hawaii is very far from resources as you know!!! : )

        • donna213 says:

          Did you see GWGT? Your garden is on the post.

          • alesiablogs says:

            I just went over there. For some reason I did not receive my email that you had that post up. hum….Word press makes me crazy.. I look often at your site so I would have seen it sooner than later. I am in the middle of editing papers now for my Auburn Univerisity student so I have enough reading for awhile. I also have Luke here for the next couple of days. He is eating me out of the house. He sure can put the food away!

  3. alesiablogs says:

    By the way–I have been looking at some older photos I have from the Big Island and Oahu..I just so happened to come across a lot of the windmills. I guess I find them peaceful. Maybe that sounds weird. I remember driving along the roads in rather quiet parts of the other islands just admiring them. This info. about birds and such does not surprise. I know I have even heard some folks think the wind energy is not going to work out as many have thought. Time will tell.

    • donna213 says:

      All the new ones are getting new design. I think the pressure they have received is a good thing in the long run. New design and siting will benefit all wildlife, except maybe those cows. I read a while back that they make the cows produce less milk. Not so happy cows like in the milk commercials.

  4. alesiablogs says:

    poor cows. I sent you an email. Hope you got it.

  5. My Heartsong says:

    I have heard about wind turbines being a threat to bird safety, thanks for writing about this.

  6. I can’t understand why more places like Hawaii and Florida don’t have more solar power sources. Those 2 states probably have the most sunshine than the rest of the country and the least amount of solar power. I’m sure the topic of wind turbines generated a lot of political debate because it certainly isn’t attractive to tourist who come there for the views.
    It’s been over ten years since we’ve been to Maui, so that was a surprise to me to see the windmills. We have wind farms near us (on the Tug Hill and in Canada on Wolf Island), and I’m sure they impact migrating birds, but I don’t know what the numbers are. Interesting post.

    • donna213 says:

      I never even considered the tourist aspect. You are right, they do kinda ruin the natural view. Solar makes sense too, but I bet that is considered marring the structures or landscape too. They just have very little land left there and I bet it is more dense on the other islands.

  7. Lyle Krahn says:

    You raise excellent points. Every source of energy has its down sides and location matters. I’m glad I’m not the only who gets bugged by stating the obvious.

  8. bittster says:

    Those windmills sure do stand out…..
    Sad that it’s just another thing standing in the way of migrating birds. I would hope the island birds of Hawaii are low altitude fliers, but it’s a scene replayed all over the mainland. I wonder if it’s as bad as the bird kills resulting from high-rise buildings?

    • donna213 says:

      I know, like there is not enough things they run into. The high-rise buildings also are making design changes for windows and reflective surfaces. At our local zoo, the birds hit the windows, so they put screens in front of them. The shading they thought would work, didn’t.

  9. And what about migrating Monarchs? Are they impacted by wind turbines? Poor Monarchs, what a hard time people are giving them!

    • donna213 says:

      I never once read on the Monarchs and wind farms. They don’t fly that high I believe. When I saw them migrating south through Pennsylvania, they were flying only just above the cars along the thruway. It was an amazing sight seeing a lot of Monarchs traveling along with the cars.

  10. Debra says:

    I thought I read somewhere that wind turbines can be turned off during key migration times. I hope they so something like that.

    • donna213 says:

      I suppose that is an option, but how would it work when so many bird species travel on different schedules? I know Warblers come in three waves, months apart. This is done to insure birds can be successful at reproduction. If some arrive too early, they might freeze or not get enough food. If the early birds live, they are the ones that get the mates and territories, so it really is chance on their luck to be the ones to procreate. I do not believe that a schedule for shutdown of turbines could satisfy all migrating birds. Some start arriving here in January like the early eagles to start making a nest, but others don’t get here until May. Insects hatching in spring are also how birds depend on travel time. Weather determines that too. Then the reverse is true. When returning, some birds travel so far that they start very early. Others leave depending on weather severity and depleting food source. Robins are one example. If the turbines are shutdown for a migration period, it is likely for a very short window and specific bird. In my post on GWGT on Bobolinks, http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com/2014/06/16/grassland-birds-in-decline-bobolink/, it is pretty evident little care is taken in whether they will be here one day or lost forever. If we can’t get farmers to cut the hay after bobolink nestlings are out of the nest, I don’t think something as big as energy demand will worry much about migrating birds. They are making improvement and I hope it is as much as is needed to save our feathered friends.

  11. I think we need to stop being selfish as if we are the only species that is important on the face of the earth….my God it is the 21st century…you would think we would be more aware of our actions and could come up with a solution so we are not harming birds.

  12. Pingback: Concerns Simply Drop Away | alesiablogs

  13. Thanks for your thoughts. I believe the harmful effects of the wind turbines on birds is glossed over too often, even by environmentalists, in favor of their perceived benefits in reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

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