Wind turbines stand in the direct path of certain migratory bats and birds, which imposes a detrimental obstacle into the animal kingdom.
Published on: November 9, 2018 | The Londoner
When it comes to the army of wind turbines stationed near the shores of Lake Huron, an unfortunate predicament arises. It’s true that by harnessing the wind’s power, Ontario is hoping to create a more sustainable, environmentally-responsible future. However, these wind turbines stand in the direct path of certain migratory bats and birds, which imposes a detrimental obstacle into the animal kingdom.
When bats collide with turbine blades, it’s no surprise that they often die on impact. However, it’s not just collisions that pose a risk; there’s also the barotrauma effect — a sudden change in air pressure. Active turbine blades create maelstroms and turbulence, which wreak havoc on a bat’s vulnerable respiratory system. This means that if a bat happens to fly too close to a spinning turbine, despite never touching the machine, internal hemorrhage is often the result. Most bat turbine victims arrive at Salthaven with exploded lungs, so mortality of these patients is 100 percent.
The hoary bat is one of just a few species of bat to migrate rather than hibernate. Not only is it Ontario’s largest bat, it’s arguably its cutest too. Weighing less than a chipmunk and equipped with a wingspan between 34 and 42 centimetres, the hoary bat looks a little like a Teddy bear. This fuzzy little mammal is also one of the unfortunate many whose migration path is disrupted by the wind turbines.
Hoary bats are voracious insect hunters and eat close to their body weight (19-35 grams) every night. Their insecticidal appetites control pests so well that they save the agricultural industry billions of dollars each year. Yet pesticide use, along with habitat destruction, is a major factor in the decline of the hoary bat population. So it’s a cruel irony that their decline means more insects, which means a greater need for pesticides, resulting in a cycle that only exacerbates the problem.
In mid-August, a hoary bat was admitted to Salthaven after having collided with a wind turbine. Somehow she survived, although she arrived at the clinic in a physical state of depression, having suffered severe head trauma and a badly-swollen eye. Volunteers quickly went to work administering medicines to reduce brain swelling and alleviate pain, yet for days afterward the bat showed no signs of improvement. Slowly she began to take nourishment, and after a few weeks the bat was able to eat on her own.
As of mid-October, this lucky hoary bat still has a ways to go before she’s better and ready for release. Since migration season is well past, she’ll be spending the winter at Salthaven. Hopefully she’s recovered by spring, when insects emerge and food is plentiful.
As advanced as humans have become, we still have a lot to learn about living harmoniously with nature and our environment. Nature tends to be quiet in this part of the world, so it’s sometimes easy to forget how powerful it can be. Our constant expansionism may serve us well, but it’s incredibly disruptive to other species. We must seriously consider the effect of human progress on the animals that support the delicate balance of our ecosystems and environment.
Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Centres are located in Mount Brydges, Ontario, and Regina, Saskatchewan. As a non-profit organization, we rely on your generous donations to feed, house and rehabilitate sick and injured wildlife. Please visit http://www.salthaven.org to learn how you can support Canadian wildlife.
For help with an Ontario wildlife emergency, please call 519-264-2440