New technology could protect birds of prey from wind turbines

BOULDER, Colo. - Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), with the help of trained eagles and their handlers from Auburn University, are testing a new detection system that could save the lives of birds of prey.

Those tests are happening at NREL's National Wind Technology Center near the City of Boulder.

With several large wind turbines in an open field, the center is ideal for trained eagles flights.

Tuesday, "Nova," a golden eagle from Alabama, flew four times. The reason is to test a computer and camera system that is designed to detect birds of prey and shut down wind turbines in the area to save the protected animals.

Marianne Hudson, assistant director of Auburn University Southeastern Raptor Center said it's both the golden and bald eagle's natural habitat. 

"Eagles belong to the American people and also to other countries as well," Hudson said. "Because they do cross country boundary lines."

Wind turbine blades can spin at speeds of 150 miles per hour. At that speed, the turbine can easily kill an eagle or other bird, according to the NWTC. 

It's not problem near Boulder, but can be at larger wind farms.

The system being tested is designed to be unmanned. The computer will detect airborne objects like birds and decide which turbines to turn off and which to keep running. To program that data, researchers are using trained eagles so  the computer can track the bird's flight patterns.

That's where "Nova" comes in. Nova is a 17-year-old eagle with a six-foot wingspan and a potential top speed of 120 mph. Researchers drop "Nova" from 100 feet in the air and he glides to a moving target in the field.

"The entire time, he will be tracked by a GPS system and radar technology, hopefully providing important data to be able to identify birds," said Hudson. 

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