Federally Endangered Clapper Rail Found Dead At Solar Plant

A Yuma clapper rail, a bird listed as Federally Endangered, has been found dead at a desert solar plant in California.

There have already been reports of numerous bird fatalities at wind farms around the country, posing questions as to how best to develop renewable energy while protecting wildlife and the environment. Solar power raises many of the same issues.

This is believed to be the first death of an Endangered bird at a renewable energy generation site in the mainland U.S., but it is only one of many birds that have died at the Desert Sunlight solar facility near Joshua Tree National Park.

The Yuma clapper rail was listed as Endangered in 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act, which was a precursor to the 1973 Endangered Species Act. The bird used to roam in marshes and estuaries up and down the Colorado River from Utah to Mexico, but decades of human interference in this mighty river have hugely reduced the amount of freshwater habitat available for the bird.

Experts believe that fewer than 1,000 Yuma clapper rails survive in the United States.

If investigation proves the bird died as a result of operation of the solar project, the death could mean that Desert Sunlight is in violation of the Endangered Species Act. However, interestingly, the company issued a statement saying that the bird’s carcass was too badly decomposed to allow a determination of the cause of death.

Huge Solar Plants Taking Over In The West

Industrial-scale solar development is well underway in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. The federal government has furnished 21 million acres for solar power, more public property to this cause than it has for oil and gas exploration over the last decade.

But there is a dark side to this solar development: potential destruction of the environment.

When complete later this year, the solar power project at Ivanpah Valley, CA will change the environment for miles around. The $2-billion plant will contain computers that continually focus the field of mirrors to a center tower filled with water, which will heat to more than 1,000 degrees, generating enough power for around 140,000 homes during peak hours.

That’s an impressive amount of renewable energy, but the area is also the habitat of desert tortoises, and the solar project has proven to be a disaster for them.

Why Are Water Birds Dying At Desert Solar Plants?

Indeed, what are water birds doing in the desert?

Chris Clarke, writing for KCET, suggests that the photovoltaic (PV) panels used at solar plants polarize the light they reflect and look very much like the surface of a body of water. As he explains:

A large PV project would seem to offer an oasis for water birds in the desert, but coming in for a landing on such a “lake” could well prove routinely fatal, either at the moment of impact or after a disabled bird wanders off into the desert.

If Clarke is correct, such placements of solar panels could spell disaster for thousands more birds.

Isn’t it time for solar companies to find out exactly how their developments are affecting the natural environment?

Photo Credit: Jim Rorabaugh, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill4 years ago

Maybe the bird died of something else? Since the body was too decomposed to be able to tell what killed it, maybe even old age.

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

Putting a big center for any use of energy, is not working out well. Solar on rooftops is a better idea. and they can sell their 'extra' energy to a larger site that may need more. Like maybe a factory, for instance. Smaller facility's and local usage would work better, I think.

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra4 years ago

Thank you Judy, for Sharing this!

Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia4 years ago

Great White E: Thanks for the info!
Jane H: I couldn't find your page to thank you for the star!

Jane H.
Jane H4 years ago

If we do get more roof top solar panels, people will then start to conserve energy. I say this because I have roof top solar panels and I sell a mega watt every time I collect one, so I unplug and turn off and do everything I can to conserve because it pays me to do so.

'Great White' Earth Being
'Great White' 4 years ago

Russ L.,

Using Solar Panels on Buildings are conservation of energy

'Great White' Earth Being
'Great White' 4 years ago

Russ L.,

There has been at least one, read one yesterday. I am with all the way, glad to see you bicycling instead of driving (in avatar) and I do Etc. to use as less of The Earth as I can.

'Great White' Earth Being
'Great White' 4 years ago


Actually, there are already answers to that being practiced in Socialist Democratic And Western European Germany*, simply, modernize and fix electrical lines (to sell back unused solar power back to local power company and force power company to pay for it in reasonable amount of time- big complaint I have heard many times) and given loans and tax breaks for all citizens that own some sort of home to buy everything need to start making their own green energy from solar panels on their own homes. No need for huge areas of nothing but solar panels creating the problem.
*- By the way, they have cancelled all plans for building any more Nuclear Power Plants, plans to retire a lot of them and Germany gets the most cloud cover of any Western European Country.
Recently, in The USA's Capitalist Media I have heard they have had a problem that like The USA their electrical lines need to be modernized (even heard from Left & Independent www.ThomHartmann.com) as a result pausing the solar power program, and before that I heard they had problems of being forced (who forcing to and how, I do not remember; read on www.care2.com) to pay for The International Coal Corporations for coal and using that for more energy. I trust www.ThomHartmann.com a BLANK a lot more and I could see Germany modernizing electrical lines and Etc. fast and going right back to Home's & Business' Building Roofs Solar Panels Power.