A GPS-Equipped Falcon Could Keep Birds From Flying Into Wind Turbines

By Gizmodo on at

By Bryan Lufkin

Birds have a bad habit of flying directly into big machines, like planes or wind turbines. This phenomenon, dubbed “birdstrike,” usually ends, well... badly for our feathered friends. But the key to saving these doomed birds could be another bird.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has recruited a 15-year-old peregrine falcon named Houdini to fly near mountains while clutching a flash drive-sized GPS. Why?

Although his usual gig is halftime entertainment at military sports fixtures, Houdini’s exploits for NREL could lead to serious advancements in radar technology; which could help researchers at the National Wind Technology Center keep better track of any wildlife flirting with death-by-wind turbine.

Avian scouts like Houdini could be more useful than drones to accomplish this goal, as a bird is the best thing we can use to predict other birds’ movement. (The drones don’t move about in the air the same way real birds do, which is why Houdini has the edge.)

NREL hopes to build a database with this flight pattern information that allows the folks at the wind plant to be alerted to nearby birds, and can stop the blades before the birds get too close.

The current alternative, which NREL says is mandated in many places? Plop somebody at the plant to be the 24/7 bird lookout.

[National Renewable Energy Laboratory]