Raptor Flight Modeling & Wind Energy

“When thou seest an Eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head!” – William Blake

Like William Blake and so many others for centuries, I am fascinated and inspired by the flight of eagles (Golden Eagles in particular). As a hydrologist I have a keen interest in the effects of topography in natural systems, and thus I find the interaction of topography and raptor flight to be a particularly compelling area of research. How and why migrating eagles choose a particular route through mountainous terrain (e.g. the Appalachian Mountain chain) are questions that I have been able to shed some light upon through the application of individual-based mechanistic models based loosely on principles of fluid flow.

For the past 15 years I have spent much of my research time collaborating with scientists from West Virginia University, USGS, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Cellular Tracking Technologies, and others to better understand and quantitatively model how golden eagle flight is influenced by terrain and weather conditions during migration. This work is particularly relevant because wind energy development is rapidly expanding throughout North America, particularly in areas used extensively by golden eagles. They are known to be vulnerable to turbine strikes at some wind farms in the western US. Risks may include both direct impacts (collisions) and indirect impacts such as displacement from migration routes or preferred habitat. Read the news feature on wind turbine risks to birds and bats published in the journal Nature. Currently (2020) I am serving on the technical support team for an NREL project “Predicting Golden Eagle Interactions with Wind Farms”.

Formerly I was part of a multidisciplinary group of researchers led by Gil Bohrer at Ohio State to develop new analysis and modeling tools for use with telemetry data on animal movements from regional to continental scales. See the Movebank website here and the Science Daily article about the project. My contribution is providing researchers with methods for modeling orographic lift and other topographic analyses. This project led to some research with Hawk Mountain Sanctuary on the migration of Turkey Vultures. Although a bit homely to look at, they are among the most efficient soaring birds in the world, capable of using very weak thermals and updrafts to fuel their movements across the landscape.

Formerly I also worked with colleagues in Spain to better understand and predict high-risk conditions for griffon vultures at wind-energy sites near the Strait of Gibraltar (see modeling work in Spain). This is a region where researchers have been studying wind energy and soaring bird interactions since the 1990s.

Link to the Eastern Golden Eagle Working Group EGEWG facebook page.

Link to my collaborators at Conservation Science International.

Link to FlightPath model developed while I was on sabbatical at Hawk Mountain’s Acopian Center for Conservation Learning.

Link to Tussey Mountain Spring Eaglewatch, which I started while doing my Ph.D. at Penn State in civil engineering.