The proliferation of humankind has had a host of adverse effects on the natural world. Aside from anthropogenic climate change, humans have had a hand in the extinction or vast reduction in numbers of numerous animal species. Despite our best efforts, our actions can sometimes end up harming the little critters of nature. Ironically, a technology designed to reduce man’s impact on the Earth is now leading to the gruesome deaths of thousands of animals a year.

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A steam generator at the Ivanpah solar power plant near Las Vegas, Nevada.

According to the LA Times, federal biologists have found that the Ivanpah Solar Plant just west of Las Vegas is incinerating over six thousand birds a year. Due to unusually heavy rains, the area around the plant is teeming with insect life which is in turn attracting birds to prey upon the insects.

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Birds aren't the only victims of the concentrated solar radiation.

The birds’ spectacular flaming deaths are so common that the works at the plant have a name for them: “streamers.” The plant’s spokesperson, David Knox, told the LA Times that the plant continues to test out methods of deterring the birds from flying straight to their fiery deaths:

We’re doing everything we can to reduce the number of birds killed out here. If there’s a silver bullet out there, maybe we’ll find it.

The plant has tested nonlethal chemical irritants to deter birds, and has installed anti-perching spikes to prevent the birds from roosting atop the glowing towers that turn the sun’s energy into electricity. The plant consists of five square miles of powerful mirrors that are all aimed at the forty-story steam towers, creating immense amounts of heat. Remember those weird kids that went around lighting ants on fire with magnifying glasses? The Ivanpah plant works essentially the same way, except exponentially bigger -  and the ants are thousands of birds.

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The mirror fields at Ivanpah generate 390 kilowatts of energy.

Motivated by the fact that many of the birds are protected or endangered species, some wildlife conservationists are calling for a halt of the plant’s operations until a solution can be found. Doing so, however, would take considerable political influence considering the plant is a flagship project for the Obama administration’s move to clean energy and was funded by a $2.2 billion loan from the federal government. It sure is hard to be a bird in Nevada.


Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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