For best experience please turn on javascript and use a modern browser!

In the transition to sustainable energy, the Dutch government is strongly committed to building wind farms at sea. But these wind parks are not completely environmentally friendly: every year probably thousands of birds die from collisions with the rotating blades. A project led by scientists from the University of Amsterdam received 1.2 million euro from NWO-TTW to understand and predict bird behavior above the North Sea so that it can be applied to develop science based mitigation measures.

A lesser black backed gull with an UvA-BiTS GPS logger. This small device is used to study fine scale flight behaviour of gulls. Photo: Kees Camphuysen

The project has already received some attention in the media because it uses ‘bird radars’. 'You can compare their function to the popular Dutch website Buienradar ,' explains project leader Dr Judy Shamoun-Baranes. Just like the this rain radar uses radar images of clouds to accurately predict when it will rain at a certain location, the bird radar can be used to detect large numbers of birds, and determine how fast and in which direction they are moving. This way you can predict where they will be next.

Bird behaviour

But there is much more to the project than using these radars. At the UvA, fundamental research into the flight behavior of birds and bird migration has been ongoing for fifteen years, in part with the help of small GPS trackers (UvA-BiTS). This knowledge can now be used to contribute to a nature-inclusive energy transition. Shamoun-Baranes: 'We have learned a lot over these past fifteen years, but there is also a lot that we still do not know. What influences the migratory behavior of birds? Why do you see so many birds on one day, and none the next? This project enables us to further investigate their behavior.'

Shamoun-Baranes adds: ‘We are not only going to study flocks of migratory birds. We will also look at the behavior of individual gulls, specifically the lesser black-backed gull. We will study the movements of these gulls around different breedingareas and the possible impact of wind farms on their breeding populations. Finally, we will bring the data from the bird radars, weather data, the behavioral research, and all sorts of other variables together and try to turn it into a prediction model.’

Economic impact

All this research is essential to making the predictions as to when large numbers of birds will fly through wind farms as accurate as possible. This accuracy is necessary because there is only one way known yet to save the birds: temporarily shutting down wind turbines. And that is not a small matter. Besides the fact that it is extremely expensive to temporarily shut down a wind farm, it has a major impact on the power supply. And not just within the Netherlands.

The loss of the electricity flow from a number of large wind farms can affect the stability of the entire European electricity network. Shamoun-Baranes: ‘Therefore we want to be able to predict 48 hours in advance whether it is necessary to shut down a wind park. We will look at the number of birds that are expected to cross the farm. It is not economically feasible to shut down a wind farm for each individual bird.'

The Dutch Airforce

The project builds on models that the UvA developed for the Dutch Royal Air Force. Thanks to these models, military aircrafts nowadays will not take off when large numbers of migratory birds are expected in the air. This has significantly reduced the number of collisions between the aircrafts and birds. 'Unfortunately, we cannot simply use the models we developed for the Air Force for the wind farms. At sea there are other factors that you have to take into account,', says Shamoun-Baranes.


The largest part of the 1.2 million euro comes from the NWO domain Applied and Engineering Sciences (NWO-TTW) and part of it is financed by knowledge users Rijkswaterstaat and Gemini windpark. In addition the Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and IT partner SURFSara are involved in the project.