Number of Birds Killed

Number of birds killed by the BP oil spill: at least 2,188 and counting.

Number of birds killed by wind farms: 10,000-40,000 annually.

Number of birds killed by cars: 80 million annually.

Number of birds killed by cats: Hundreds of millions to 1 billion annually.

Don't worry there is some good news.  

Number of birds killed by fisheries: tens to hundreds of thousands annually (fortunately for the birds, some of these fisheries are now shut down).


doesn't seem like a fair comparison. not all birds are the same. losing a bunch of pigeons or seagulls or sparrows is not the same as losing endangered migrating birds or louisiana pelicans. would be more interesting to see a breakdown of severity of damage from different causes, normalized by the particular bird populations affected.

To play devil's advocate, an endangered population has already ceased to play much of a role in the overall health of the ecosystem.

thanks for this insight

Something tells me that we should be less worried about birds, and more worried about plants, plankton, and the long-term effects of the food chain- although those numbers are perversely comforting.

All this post actually does is reproduce some numbers. If you think it's outrageous / dumb etc. you are reacting to what you take the implied message to be, not to what's written.

It's possible Alex does mean "... and so the BP spill is no big deal!", in which case fire away... Alex can you confirm: are you the idiot the above commentators take you to be?

Cars kill 80 million birds per year? This seems implausible -- in 20+ years of driving, I've never seen this happen or heard of it happening to anyone else.

Also, worth taking a look at a paper which compared avian (bird and bat) mortality from wind, coal and nuclear energy. From the conclusions:

"The issue of avian mortality and electricity generation is certainly complex. Avian wildlife can perish by striking wind turbines, nuclear power plant cooling structures, transmission and distribution lines, and smokestacks at fossil fuel-fired power stations... For wind turbines, the risk appears to be greatest to birds striking towers or turbine blades and for bats suffering barotrauma [the pressure drop as blades pass sucking their tiny lungs out]. For fossil-fueled power stations, the most significant fatalities come from climate change... For nuclear power plants, the risk is almost equally spread across hazardous pollution at uranium mine sites and collisions with draft cooling structures. Yet, taken together, fossil-fueled facilities are about 17 times more dangerous to birds on a per GWh basis than wind and nuclear power stations. In absolute terms, wind turbines may have killed about 7000 birds in 2006 but fossil-fueled stations killed 14.5 million and nuclear power plants 327,000"

"Contextualizing avian mortality: A preliminary appraisal of bird and bat fatalities from wind, fossil-fuel, and nuclear electricity" Benjamin K. Sovacool, Energy Policy Volume 37, Issue 6, June 2009, Pages 2241-2248


Now do the same list of causes, only with the "Number of people killed."

Why is everyone assuming that endangered species aren't hit by cars or don't run into windows? Alex's point about the fisheries is also important. Could the net result be fewer birds killed?

Humans are trashing the planet. Who's allowing us to do that? Why is being allowing to happen, and who is benefitting from the destruction? One specific environmental disaster is bad enough, especially if you're the bird who is drenched in oil and dies a painful death. But it is the accumulated affects of human actions that will ultimately lead to ecological collapse (such as Global Warming), and nuclear war fought over resources. George Mason University will be destroyed in the blast and you will die. No cat will be needed to put you out of your misery.

Stuart Buck's comment is amazing. He either has always lived in bird depleted environs or is extremely unobservant. During this morning's 30 miles of cycling I happened to spot three roadside bird carcasses.

If the controlled reactionaries get their way and replace oil with wind, the wind farms will cover thousands of times the area they do presently (producing a pittance of electricity on the best of days), killing thousands of times the birds--particularly raptors which are often regionally endangered--and bats--whose populations are collapsing nationwide.


Another trait for scientists to cultivate is to limit their speculations about data presented. If speculations are required then more data is needed. Alex presented numbers. He labeled them properly (I assume). He juxtaposed them but did not compare them.

Folks here are often so worried what happens in the minds of others. Thanks mind cops, but no thanks.

"To play devil's advocate, an endangered population has already ceased to play much of a role in the overall health of the ecosystem."

The majority of endangered species live in very small regions, where they do play a significant role in the local ecosystem. The brown pelican subspecies in louisiana is rare because of habitat loss, not because it doesn't thrive and have a role where it is able to live.

By the same standards of mere citation of numbers, if Alex and Tyler died, that would be two dead economists. Hundreds of economists die each year. Millions of people die each year. Draw your own conclusions.

Sounds insignificant to me.


If you hit a bird with a car, would you know it? I like to run, and during my runs, it is rare to go more than a week without seeing at least 1 new bird carcass on the margin or in the middle of the road- they are nearly as common in my area as squirrel carcasses.

I have driven for almost 30 years, and I know I have hit birds on 6 occasions because I hit them with the windshield in the daytime (and those are the ones I remember), but I don't know how many I hit with windshield at night or with the front end of the vehicle. Lets just say that some of the "insects" I have plowed into at night thumped loud enough that I don't know for sure that they were moths or some other larger insect.

Clearly we should ban cats. Actually I would have favoured this even if they didn't kill birds.



I know that wind farms were not the point of the post, but I'm envisioning some kind of "bird and trade" system where wind farmers can be "bird neutral" and offset the number of birds they kill by killing a few cats. Hopefully only the useless aloof and allergenic ones.

Judging from the comments, this post is a Rorschach test.

This post is very unfortunate...
It is an irresponsible use of "dubious facts".
What were you trying to communicate?
That BP spill is less important than it looks like on the news?

Sorry, I can not finish writting down my opinion, I have to remove a RSS Feed from my reader right now...

I would be curious to see a more comprehensive categorization of bird deaths. Like percentages of total annual bird mortality. I'm not actually sure whether even the billion birds for cats is a lot or not.

So let's see if I follow the logic here. More people get killed by cars each year than were killed at the World Trade Center, so therefore 9/11 was not a significant event and we should just shrug it off as a non-event. Drill baby drill. Yeah, that's the ticket.

I don't usually follow this blog, so I don't know if this poster is just stupid or if he's maliciously disingenuous.

However, the "Number of birds killed by the BP oil spill" records the number of birds killed *by exposure to oil and witnessed by observers..

It does not record the number of shore-nesting birds whose eggs won't hatch because of oil exposure. It doesn't count the birds that will die of starvation because the spreading anaerobic "dead zone" destroys the bottom of the food pyramid. It doesn't count the pelagic birds that die far from the shore and aren't observed. It doesn't count the birds that will die, months later, from eating shellfish and other "filter feeders" that have accumulated lethal levels of petroleum toxins in their systems.

In short, the "number of birds killed by the BP oil spill" is NOT the number of birds killed by the BP oil spill. It's not even close. It's the equivalent of assessing the health risks of smoking by observing the number of smokers who die from cigarette-related burn injuries, then pointing out that more people die in kitchen related fires. Stupid. Or maliciously disingenuous. Take your pick.

Your methodology has a bit of a problem, though, doesn't it?

If you're going to use estimated total bird deaths for wind farms, cars, and cats, then shouldn't you use estimated total bird deaths for the oil spill as well, instead of confirmed deaths?

Either that, or go back to the data and find the actual confirmed number of kills for wind farms, cars, and cats that the respective estimates were based on, right?

You're also being a bit sloppy with the confirmed bird kill number to begin with:

Note that there is no determination of cause of death in the collection reports, less than half of the dead birds collected have visible oil on them, and there's lengthy disclaimers at the top of the summary telling you not to use any of these field collection numbers as "wildlife confirmed killed by the oil spill" statistics.

ToddT and robotslave have nailed the complete ridiculousness of the bird death number cited. But if you don't see it then it didn't happen, right?

In the asylum in which she's been incarcerated since 1963, long-traumatized Melanie Daniels grins gratifyingly.

Okay, so how many of those things kill dolphins and whales and pollute the shores beyond recognition??? And millions, if not billions of different types of fish. And more to come....

Great post Alex.

It helps to review. Even if it doesn't help the true believers here. And they need help. But they are beyond it.

Great post, Alex. The many of the comments demonstrate it by their sheer inability to understand it. It's hard when people's knees jerk so hard they hit themselves in the mouth.


Judging by your new set of comments, you've purged your comments of free thinking people again....

Shame, I used to like it here.

Do chickens and turkeys count as birds ?

Perfect example of an economist - measuring wrong statistics. Its a water disaster - not airborne. What are the statistics on number of fishes killed?

Sense of humor deprivation sighted.

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Note that there is no determination of cause of death in the collection reports, less than half of the dead birds collected have visible oil on them, and there's lengthy disclaimers at the top of the summary telling you not to use any of these field collection numbers as "wildlife confirmed killed by the oil spill" statistics.

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