Block Island Wind Farm Helps Researchers Monitor Offshore Bird And Bat Migrations

Oct 5, 2017

The Block Island Wind Farm now has a wildlife tracking station aimed at helping researchers learn more about offshore flight patterns of small birds and bats that are likely to become endangered or extinct in the foreseeable future unless federal action is taken. 

In August, Deepwater Wind, developers of the wind farm, installed four antennas and a receiver on the foundation of one of the wind turbines to collect data from birds and bats previously tagged with tiny,  high-frequency transmitters.

Researchers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in collaboration with University of Rhode Island and University of Massachusetts Amherst have been monitoring what time of day and in what weather conditions small-bodied bats and birds, such as piping plovers, roseate terns, and common terns, fly by the station. Scientists are also keeping track of the animals' sex and age. 

Pam Loring, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Division of Migratory Birds and co-leader of the project, said it’s hard to estimate the movements of birds and bats in marine environments because the technology is limited.

She said the new tracking station will help fill the gap. 

“The use of these digital VHF transmitters allows us to collect brand new information about how these different species move offshore, and this information is really important for monitoring possible effects of development and activities in offshore environments, including offshore wind turbines,”  Loring said.

The Block Island Wind Farm wildlife tracking station is one of about 40 stations along the coast from Cape Cod to Virginia that have been deployed throughout the years since 2013.

However, Loring added the location of the newest station is unique. 

“It’s the first time this technology has been used on a wind turbine, so it’s a really good pilot of the technology for monitoring the wind energy area," Loring said. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to remove the wind farm's wildlife tracking station in the winter and redeploy it next spring when birds are active in the area again.  

The project is funded by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.