Needletail overkill

I think I might be on a hiding to nothing, but here goes...

There has been an awful lot of coverage about the demise of the White-throated Needletail on Harris. Too much coverage to be frank, with the word, 'tragic', to the fore.

Let's just look at the facts. A lost bird, thousands of miles from home, and destined to fly the skies of northern Europe on its own, collides with a wind turbine. This act, of a bird fatality at a wind turbine, takes place many times a day. For statistics, there are plenty on the internet to digest, such as here. A White-throated Needletail is, beyond doubt, a most sought after species for any birder, let alone a lister. But, is the loss of this individual any more important than that of a Meadow Pipit that may have been breeding nearby? I could argue that it is of less concern. The Needletail wasn't going to breed and it wasn't going to get home. No collective fuss is made of the loss of other birds killed by wind turbines, at least not to this extent.

There have been other rarity losses over the years, down to various Sparrowhawks, cats and cars. These weren't tragic either. Tragedy is the death of a young person, an horrific accident, an apocalyptic natural disaster. Not the accidental death of a lost bird.

I partly blame the 24-hour fast-food news culture, that needs to constantly feed itself and over sensationalise what is going on. It demands attention. It needs you to join in, to comment, to tweet, to 'like', to link. And so the maelstrom grows.

My thoughts aren't anti-twitcher. Yes, it's a shame that such a wonderful bird is no longer flying free in the skies above Harris, but I bet a few hundred Common Swifts have also died during the past few days. Is that tragic also? I didn't see any of these deaths mentioned.

Maybe part of the USP about this story is that the bird collided with a wind turbine. Had it flown into a window I wouldn't mind betting that the story wouldn't have gone beyond the birding fraternity. Wind turbines are a bone of contention, an environmental hot potato. I personally think that they are ugly blots on the landscape. The RSPB think that they are a viable alternative to nuclear power. We all need something in place to produce our power in the coming years, so if not nuclear and if not turbines, then what?

I haven't seen a rabid call to ban these 'Neddletail-killing death contraptions', but I bet if I looked hard enough, they exist.

If you were planning to head to Harris this weekend to see this bird, then I'm sorry that your hopes were dashed. But the fact that you are not able to go is not down to a 'tragedy'.

Also see this take on the incident.


David Campbell said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Campbell said…
I can't think of an event/death of a bird that would bring the issue of the effect of wind turbines on birds so much into the public eye for general scrutiny and awareness, Steve. This bird has provided a unique and emotive vehicle to bring the debate between the benefits and costs and such generators into widespread discussion. What's bad about that? How often does man's direct impact on wildlife get such a grilling? I really don't see the problem, it's a good thing that it has got this level of attention. As for the use of 'sensationalist' words such as 'tragedy', that is just how people talk and how journalists report - whether calling the incident a 'tragedy' is going OTT is arguable but people are hardly going to sell a story or make a point by saying 'unfortunately the needletail collided with a wind turbine, but it's not that sad really so don't worry about it'. In any case, I can speak for all birders present at the time when I say that we were deeply saddened by the incident, the bird was a star, full of life and giving us so much pleasure, then we had to watch it flop to the ground and lose its dignity - in global and non-emotive terms, nothing happened and it matters not a jot, but what does...? The incident certainly nearly brought a tear to my eye
Steve Gale said…
You have put your views across most eloquently David. Had I been present at the moment the needletail met its end then, of course, I would have gained a personal involvement in the event, which I lack. At times I use this blog to play 'devil's advocate' and might not necessarily be banging the drum for certain subject or ideas. As for windfarms, I primarily dislike them for their visual impact on the landscape. I would also question their cost per kW of power generated. Their propensity to kill birds is something that the experts seem to agree upon - a badly sited windfarm can cause significant bird deaths, one that is sympathetical placed causes far fewer. Is one death too many? We now get into semantics. Should we ban cars and clear glass windows or cull Magpies, crows and Sparrowhawks? Where do we stop - or start?

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