Finding: why wind turbines kill bats

Wind Turbines Give Bats the “Bends,” Study Finds

Half of the dead bats that lie like jetsam
around the tall masts of wind turbines
appear unharmed, wingbones unbroken,
their ears’ stiff calipers still cocked.
But an autopsy finds their lungs
flooded with blood, as if punctured
by invisible splinters. It seems
each whirling blade grows
a zone of low pressure at its tip,
& the bats, attracted to the motion,
are caught unprepared — for what
in 50 million years of evolution
could’ve prepared them for barotrauma
bursting the web of vessels in their lungs,
so that they drown in the air?
Their dun or silver bodies crumple
like divers with the bends.
Exquisitely tuned sonar systems go silent.
The propellors spin on, as if in service
to some vast, uncaptained ship,
a new Flying Dutchman, yawing
under the glue-eyed moon.

Written in response to a Read Write Poem prompt, according to which I harvested five words, one each from five different poems, and wove a poem around them. Other responses to the prompt may be found here.

My words came from Lia Purpura’s wonderful and quirky new book King Baby: slat, calipers, splinter, dun, and glue-eyed. All five words were present in the first draft of this poem, in the order in which I pulled them from a bag, but “thin slats of their wingbones” didn’t survive the edit.

16 Replies to “Finding: why wind turbines kill bats”

  1. Wow, a great poem – it calls up such tender feelings in me for the bats, as well as frustration toward humans.

    You certainly made good use of the words you gleaned.

  2. I feel its always a good sign when I can’t figure out what the words are until you tell us. It means you’ve incorporated them seamlessly into the poem.
    I didn’t know that wind turbines kill bats, I think that’s very sad.

  3. Hey, y’all – Thanks for the kind words. I keep telling myself that I should do some focused science reading and put together a collection of poems like this. I don’t know if that’ll happen or not, but I do highly recommend the National Geographic online and the New York Times Science section as great sources of poetry prompts.

  4. Very nice poem Dave. However, I hate to learn in such an exquisite manner that such a horrible thing is happening to the bats.

    Why is it that every possible oil alternative method we can think of to obtain energy ends up dangerous to animal life (including of course ourselves, if you count nuclear) or wasteful, nay ruinuous to plant life if you count corn..etc.

    Maybe they can put ultrasonic whistles on the ends of the
    blade that only bats can hear and hate.

  5. Joan, there may well be other designs (internal-blade turbines, for example) that minimize damage to bats. But that won’t do much for other problems, especially the loss of fragile ridgeline habitat here in the east. And until we find an effective way to store wind and solar energy, large concentrations of such alternative energy plants will greatly destabilize the power grid.

    The effect of external-blade turbines on migrating birds is somewhat different but just as severe, and what is most aggravating to me is the way most mainstream environmentalists are trying to push all the data under the rug and demonize those of us who oppose wind installations. Happy talk is better for fundraising than traditional doom-and-gloom, which as you can imagine I staunchly adhere to. We simply cannot continue to consume energy (or anything else) at our current level and expect that there won’t be some rather steep trade-offs in health and in biodiversity.

  6. There is always that word ‘consume’, isn’t there? Each step up in the food chain consumes the one below it. Are we the only species who consume animals for food and also burn/consume something for the warmth (and sometimes coolness) we need to survive? Maybe left to the fates we would re-evolve into furry creatures.

  7. Well, the word is perhaps a little bit too vague, i agree. It’s more the commodification of the earth, and of other human beings, that’s a problem — but even the most benign forms of consumption cannot be ecologically sustainable when one species is as numerous as we are right now.

  8. Consider the number of natural/unnatural disasters we’ve been having lately. Perhaps it’s Nature’s way of culling our over populated herd. At any rate, thank you for the wonderful heartbreaking poem. At least this particular aerodynamic murder was not caused deliberately by shooting animals from an airplane window.

  9. How bizarre!

    I knew that wind turbines, especially vertical axis ones, were responsible for a number of bird deaths.

    But I never knew bats were affected too. I guess any airborne life is harmed by wind turbines.

    I believe the problem is that when the blades are spinning fast, the birds or bats don;t see them and try fly right through…then splat!

    To prevent all these accidents, we need to find a way for the blades to be more visible to birds and other airborne creatures.

  10. Our forest bats are nocturnal creatures that navigate by sonar, not by sight. And apparently they are only attracted to the blade motion when they’re spinning at slower speeds. So preliminary studies suggest that many if not most bat deaths could be prevented by having the turbines shut down below a certain wind speed threshhold. (We’d probably know a lot more by now, but the wind industry in the U.S. has been highly uncooperative with independent researchers.) I am not sure what the implications might be for smaller, backyard turbines such as your site promotes.

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