ELKINS, W.Va. -- Lights left on at a power substation on a foggy night during the fall migration season are believed to be responsible for the deaths of nearly 500 songbirds earlier this month at the new AES Laurel Mountain wind farm near Elkins.
"From a bird conservation perspective, it was a very bad event," said Kelly Fuller, wind campaign coordinator for the American Bird Conservancy, a national bird conservation group headquartered in The Plains, Va.
More than half of the birds involved in the incident were blackpoll warblers, with Connecticut warblers, yellow-billed cuckoos, sora and Virginia rail among other species reportedly found dead near the substation
The bird kill occurred Oct. 2-3, according to Division of Natural Resources spokesman Hoy Murphy
The bird kill did not apparently involve collisions with wind turbines at the 61-tower complex, according to a preliminary investigation. Instead, the deaths reportedly occurred from "a combination of collisions with the substation and exhaustion, as birds caught in the light's glare circled in mass confusion," according to a release from Fuller's organization.
The incident occurred during a period of fog and poor visibility.
Night-migrating songbirds flying in such conditions without a horizon to follow, or without recognizable patterns of light to indicate the sky above, or dark to indicate the ground below, can become "trapped" by steady burning lights. In such cases, the area below them appears lighter, due to the lights, while the sky above appears darker, reversing the birds' sense of up and down. Birds can circle such lights long enough to die of exhaustion or collide with a structure.
Murphy said AES is drafting a final report on the incident, which will be submitted to the DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Further comment from the DNR was not expected until after that report is reviewed.
Fuller said the Laurel Mountain bird kill was the third involving migrating birds, fog, and lights being left on overnight at West Virginia wind farms.