Fact Check: Trump Claims Wind Turbines Kill 'Thousands' of Bald Eagles

Donald Trump's recent rally in South Carolina, reintroducing his 2024 presidential bid, included attacks on many familiar adversaries from the Bidens, to immigration, to China.

The former president set out a number of ideological positions, among them on energy, decrying oil reserve sell-offs and the price of gas across the U.S.

Other targets in this same pattern were wind turbines which, Trump claimed, had killed a tremendous number of North America's emblematic bird of prey, the bald eagle.

Comp Image,Trump, Wind Turbines and an Eagle
In this combination image, Former U.S. President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago on November 08, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida and inset images of an American Bald Eagle and a wind turbine farm Getty

The Claim

A YouTube video, posted on January 28, 2023, shows former president Donald Trump saying at a rally in South Carolina: "We demand windmills be built on our oceans, our prairies, our mountains, and our plains, only to realize that they're killing all our eagles and our birds.

"If you kill a bald eagle they put you in jail for five years but the windmills knock out thousands of them, nothing happens."

The Facts

Trump has complained before about wind turbines and their threat to birds, including in 2019, during a speech at a Turning Point USA conference.

"A windmill will kill many bald eagles," Trump added.

"After a certain number, they make you turn the windmill off, that is true. By the way, they make you turn it off.

"And yet, if you killed one, they put you in jail. That is OK. But why is it OK for windmills to destroy the bird population?

"You want to see a bird graveyard, go under a windmill someday. You will see more dead birds than you've ever seen in your life."

If Trump were talking about total bird populations he would be on safer ground. Estimates for the total number of bird deaths per year by wind turbines reach hundreds of thousands.

According to a 2021 article by Joel Merriman, a former Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign Director for the American Bird Conservancy, who assessed three studies published between 2013 and 2014, the average bird fatalities per year varied from 234,000 to more than 573,000.

The article states: "Adjusting for this industry growth, we can project that approximately 538,000 wind turbine-caused bird deaths occur in the U.S. each year."

However, as Merriman adds, adjusting for size as well as the number of turbines that projection increases to 681,000.

There is indeed plenty of evidence that bald eagles are and have been killed by wind turbines.

Last year, ESI Energy was fined $8 million for violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, acknowledging the death of at least 150 bald and golden eagles across 40 wind energy facilities. Of those, 136 deaths were "affirmatively determined to be attributable to the eagle being struck by a wind turbine blade", according to a statement by the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California.

With such a high number of projected overall bird deaths, does that mean bald eagles are also being killed in their thousands too, as Trump claimed?

A U.S. Department of the Interior report from March 2021 said America's bald eagle population stands at an estimated 316,700 in the lower 48 states, quadrupling since 2009.

This has happened at the same time as cumulative wind power capacity in the United States has tripled, increasing from 40,267 megawatts in 2010 to 121,985 in 2020, according to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Part of the issue is that Trump does not state whether he is talking on an annual timespan or referring to total recorded figures.

Newsweek spoke to Lewis Grove, Director of Wind and Energy at ABC, who said while the true number killed per year could be "in the hundreds", he was unable to find "compelling evidence anywhere that thousands of Bald Eagles are killed by turbines in the U.S. annually."

"One could use the uncertainty to argue as much, but it's just not really supported by the data," Grove added.

Bald eagle at Washington DC zoo
Bald eagle at the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington DC. The animals are vulnerable to lead poisoning and can die from an amount as small as a grain of rice. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / Staff/Getty Images

Given that one company admitted that bald eagles counted among 150 eagles killed by its wind turbines, it might be reasonable to assume that the total figure could have reached into the thousands.

However, not only is there a lack of data to support this explicitly, there is compelling evidence that shows just how small the actual numbers might be.

A review of the causes of mortality in eagles submitted to the National Wildlife Health Center between 1975 to 2013, found that among 2,980 birds, poisoning killed the highest number of bald eagles, at around 26 percent.

Other causes of death included trauma (22.9 percent), electrocution (12.5 percent), gunshot (10.2 percent), emaciation (5.9 percent), disease (5.2 percent), and trapping (2 percent). Another 10.2 percent of deaths were undetermined.

Although turbines are not mentioned in this study, they may have been among the causes of the 681 trauma bald eagle deaths, although not the only one.

"As opportunistic carrion eaters, both eagle species are attracted to road kills, and therefore are at risk of being struck by motor vehicles," the study said.

"Trauma was a consistent cause of death for eagles across all regions, and particularly high for bald eagles in the Atlantic region likely due to the high densities of humans and roads in many eastern states."

A 2020 study, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, examining the sources of mortality in bald eagles in Michigan from 1985-2017 found only a very small number of deaths were linked to wind turbines.

Here, while trauma was ranked much higher as the cause of death than the study from 2013, researchers attributed only three of the 770 trauma deaths they recorded to "wind turbine collision", fewer than airplanes (five), powerline collisions (42) and vehicular collisions (532).

"Poaching almost certainly kills more bald eagles than turbines, by a large degree," Grove of the ABC said.

"As the numbers indicate, poisonings (often from lead ammo in gut piles) are even more of a risk to these populations."

A 2013 analysis in the Journal of Raptor Research, that assessed deaths of bald and golden eagles "AT WIND ENERGY FACILITIES IN THE CONTIGUOUS UNITED STATES" between 1997 and 2012, stated it found evidence of only four of what it considered were attributable bald eagle deaths; three in Iowa, two in Wyoming and one in Maryland.

It's likely that a number of deaths caused by wind turbines are either not or incorrectly recorded, which could push the true total figure toward the thousands.

With the number of bald eagles standing at more than 316,000, if only 0.7 percent of these birds were killed by turbines then Trump would be technically correct.

However, there is no research that shows thousands of bald eagles have been killed by these machines.

Trump's use of the phrase "knock out" in the same breath as killing, does give his claim some plausible deniability. One could speculate that he corrected his claim from "killed" to "knocked out", meaning he'd quickly revised his statement to refer to an injury that may have knocked a bird unconscious or injured it in a similar fashion.

However, even by that token, Grove said conservation data could not support that conclusion.

"Injuries are definitely an issue alongside fatalities, though I get the impression many of these birds are ultimately euthanized anyway (which is) probably why they are not generally treated separately in most datasets," Grove said.

"And frankly, the more I dug, the more I became convinced that the claim that thousands of bald eagles are killed annually by turbines is really just not supported by any data I can find."

Wind-turbine generators in Desert Hot Springs, California, in 2011. Reuters

However, one species that Grove noted were more vulnerable to wind turbines are golden eagles, the only other widespread eagle in North America.

Higher golden eagle mortality, attributable to wind turbines/wind energy facilities, were also noted in the studies previously mentioned.

"Golden eagles are at about one-tenth of the bald eagle population; are in decline; and seem to be drawn to the same wind resources that turbine developers are, resulting in many collisions," Grove said.

"So ultimately, wind turbines probably do not currently pose a major threat to the continued recovery of the bald eagle (though dramatic buildout could change that in a few years)—but widespread build-out of terrestrial turbines in the coming years almost certainly poses a major threat to already-precarious golden eagle populations."

While not part of his claim it is also worth mentioning that wind turbines as a cause of death among birds, in general, is far smaller than other types of deaths.

A 2022 article by the fact-checking site BirdFact noted that while there are estimates that up to 450,000 birds a year are killed by wind turbines in the U.S., it pales in comparison to other causes.

According to a 2014 study published in the ornithological journal The Condor, up to one billion birds in the United States are killed every year due to collisions with buildings, though this is the top end of the estimate; 100 million is the lower end.

A 2013 study, published in Nature, also found that between 1.3 billion to 4 billion birds a year are killed by free-ranging domestic cats.

Neither of these threats is likely to affect bald eagles but they give a clearer picture of the numbers involved when considering a claim such as Trump's, particularly as it's a policy issue he may choose to pursue.

There are also those that argue that cleaner energy efforts would contribute beneficially to the habitation and survival of animals affected by climate change.

Ornithology research and conservation group The National Audubon Society has conducted climate mapping that suggests only 26 percent of the areas with climate conditions currently suitable for bald eagles during the summertime will remain suitable for them by 2080 (although, as Audubon notes, other territories may emerge).

Charitably, Trump may have meant to say that birds and bald eagles are killed in their thousands each year by wind turbines, as evidence shows.

Alternatively, the former president may have meant to describe the total figure of bald eagles killed in the U.S. by turbines. However, there is no evidence to substantively qualify that claim.

Furthermore, if he did refer to annual figures, based on evidence and expert views, that claim would be incorrect.

Moreover, the effects of poaching and poisoning are more closely linked to bald eagle deaths across the States.

This wasn't the only potentially misleading statement made in South Carolina recently. Trump also claimed that he negotiated 28,000 Mexican soldiers to police the country's border, a figure that Newsweek was unable to verify.

Newsweek has contacted Trump for comment.

The Ruling



Evidence shows that bald eagles have died from trauma caused by wind turbine collisions. However, of what data there is, Newsweek found no evidence that thousands of bald eagles are killed annually, and no substantive evidence that shows the total has reached that number.

While researchers found wind turbines were associated with a higher number of deaths in golden eagles (the U.S. population of which is more scarce), research on bald eagle deaths caused by trauma shows wind turbine collision affects a smaller proportion of birds. Poisoning, poaching, and vehicular collisions have been associated with more deaths.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek's Fact Check team

False: The claim is demonstrably false. Primary source evidence proves the claim to be false.
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