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Scotland Turbine Kills Rare Bird as Ornithologists Watch in Horror

White-throated needletail | Photo: CREDIT/Flickr/Creative Commons License

It had to happen eventually: a rare bird that had attracted a number of British birders was struck and killed by wind turbine blades in the Outer Hebrides as the onlookers watched in horror. The white-throated needletail, one of just five seen in the UK since 1950, was announced on the British online Rare Bird Alert, which meant about 30 birders were on hand on Harris Island to witness its demise.

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The white-throated needletail might seem an unlikely bird to fall victim to a Scottish wind turbine. For one thing, the birds are rarely found outside their normal haunts, with breeding habitat in Asia and wintering grounds in Australia.

But there's also the matter of the needletail's adept flying. A fast and maneuverable bird in the swift family, the needletail -- which is big for a swift, about nine inches long -- is widely thought to be the world's fastest flier, with top speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. (Peregrine falcons, who often get that title, gain their impressive speeds while "stooping," or diving. The needletail reaches those speeds in flappiing flight, meaning without the help of gravity.)

Much of the focus on wind turbines' effect on birds has involved larger, less-adept fliers such as raptors, cranes, and California condors. Though this needletail may just have been phenomonally unlucky, the incident shows that smaller birds with more responsive flying styles run some risk of injury with at least some turbines in some places.

As this collectiion of tweets from British birders indicates, the fatality cast a dark pall over what had been an exciting bird-watching event:

The death of one wildly vagrant bird may not matter all that much in the scheme of things, but it's unlikely to endear wind turbines to the brit Birder crowd.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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