I often find myself concerned about the safety of birds, and if you’re anything like I am you probably want to make sure that your home is as bird friendly as possible. Along with that, you may have heard that solar panels can be dangerous for birds.
Rooftop solar panels aren’t dangerous to birds. The kinds of solar panels designed for large scale solar farms can kill birds, but the mechanism by which they create power is not comparable to the kind of solar panels used for domestic purposes. Even solar farms don’t actually kill very many birds.
Thank goodness! But what makes rooftop panels so different from the kind used in solar farms? And what kinds of dangers are birds actually facing?
Types Of Solar Panels
There are basically two ways to take energy from the sun using solar panels. Either you can transform the light from the sun directly into electricity, or you can use the heat from the light to power a generator. Solar panels that convert light into power are called “photovoltaic,” and the other kind is usually called “solar thermal.”
Photovoltaic solar panels don’t need a lot of machinery to be able to produce power, and this makes them super compact as far as electrical generators go. These are the kind of panels that you are likely to put on your roof.
As a side note, because photovoltaic cells only need light in order to produce electricity, they still work even on cloudy days, although they definitely work best in direct sunlight.
Solar thermal generators take up a ton of space, although as a whole they use the sun’s energy more efficiently than the photovoltaic kind. Solar plants like this essentially work by taking tons of super-reflective mirrors, arranging them in a circle around a steam generator, and using them to focus the sun’s heat all on one spot.
This is where the danger comes in for birds. If a bird happens to fly through the middle of one of these facilities in the wrong spot, it’s likely to be fried by one of these errant death rays.
Because photovoltaic cells don’t produce really any kind of heat, they aren’t likely to hurt any birds.
What Kills Birds?
Technically, given the right circumstances, anything can kill a bird. In practice however, most birds are killed by a small number of causes that are especially capable of causing birds harm.
You may have seen birds fly into tall buildings as jokes in movies, but that’s actually something that happens all the time all over the world, and it kills close to six hundred million birds every year.
Cats also kill so, so many birds every year. In fact, they kill somewhere in the area of 2.4 billion birds every year. It’s like they evolved specifically to kill birds or something. If you are bird conscious, you should keep your cat inside to prevent it from committing any horrible murders.
Pesticides also kill nearly a hundred million birds every year, although pesticides kill just about everything living so that shouldn’t really be a surprise.
As far a power plants go, solar facilities hardly kill any at all compared to some of the other killers out there. They tend to kill around 144,000 each year, which is more than pesticides but far less than tall buildings.
Other Risk Factors
Your home’s solar panels may not be dangerous to birds, but as we learned in the last section there are all sorts of things about your home that might be killing birds instead.
If your home is tall and has big windows, it’s pretty likely that you’re getting a few stupid birds killing themselves by flying straight into them. If you own a cat, that also might be killing birds that happen to stop by in the area.
If you’re finding mangled bird corpses around your home, there might be a feral cat hanging out in your neighborhood that has chosen your home as a hunting ground. You may also be using a pesticide on something that the birds are eating.
There isn’t much you can do about birds flying into your windows. Sometimes making the windows more visible can help, but it’s pretty hard to completely prevent it from happening.
Keeping your cat indoors is also pretty useful for preventing birds from getting senselessly murdered. You can also call someone to deal with a feral cat that may be causing problems.
Check any chemical pesticides that you use in your garden, or even better put a net over your garden to prevent birds from getting into it in the first place.
Solar heaters also use the hear from the sun to warm either water or air, and because of this it’s reasonable to ask if they might be responsible for killing the occasional bird.
The short answer is no. Many solar heaters just use an ordinary photovoltaic panel to generate electricty, which they then use to heat whatever needs heeating.
Those that don’t still use a fairly bird-safe method of collecting heat. For instance, solar water heaters usually just use a material that’s good at absorbing heat to increase the temperature of whatever water is inside. This is, of course, completely harmless for birds.
Can Birds Hurt Solar Panels?
So your solar panels are harmless to birds. Does that make them prey? Well in some ways, birds can be bad for your solar panels. Birds like to nest in shady places where they’re protected from the elements, and if your solar panels have space between themselves and your roof they might be prime nesting space.
This is, of course, very bad for your panels, since the birds can poop all over the critical wiring that might be kept there.
Birds can also poop on top of the solar panels, which can cause entirely different problems. Since the surface of some kinds of solar panels can get pretty hot, bird poop can be quite a pain to clean off of the panels.
The birds might not be a problem, but it still might be a good idea to keep the birds away from your roof anyways.