We studied the landscape distribution of endemic Hawaiian hoary bats (Lasiurus cinereus semotus) on the north Ko`olau Mountains of O`ahu, Hawai`i, from May 2013 to May 2014, while simultaneously studying their behavior at wind turbines within the broader landscape. This research aimed to assess the risk that wind turbines pose to bats on the island and integrated a variety of methods, including acoustic monitoring, thermal videography, and fatality searches. Our findings indicate that hoary bats were acoustically cryptic and occurred sparsely in the region. Overall site occupancy rate was 55% during the 1-year period of acoustic monitoring at 23 sites, and there was only an 8% chance of acoustically detecting a bat on a given night if it was present. We detected bats less frequently in windward northern parts of the study area and at windy, lower-elevation sites with rough terrain. Bats were detected more frequently in leeward southern parts of the study area and at wind-sheltered, higher-elevation sites with flat ridge tops. Acoustic detections were consistently low from October through February and increased at most sites to peak in April through August. However, meteorological conditions were not found to be associated with the acoustic prevalence of bats on a night-to-night basis.
We observed more than three thousand events involving bats during six months of nightly video surveillance at four wind turbines. Video monitoring revealed several links to weather at the local scale, despite acoustic detections not clearly relating to weather in our broader landscape analysis. Video demonstrated bats occurring near turbines more often on nights with little rain, warmer temperatures, moderate wind speeds, low humidity, and the low but rising barometric pressures indicative of fair weather and improved foraging conditions. Video monitoring also demonstrated that the presence of bats near turbines strongly correlates with insect presence.
We detected bats on video rather infrequently, averaging only one to two passes per hour. Most detections were brief (median = 4.0 sec) and involved single bats (97%), with the amount of time during which bats were observed totaling to only 0.10% of the video analyzed (about 3.8 hours of 3,847 total hours). Bats frequently foraged in the airspace near turbines. These results differ from a recent similar study on the mainland (continental North America) and may indicate that Hawaiian hoary bats spend less time closely approaching wind turbines and show less interest in them than their more-migratory mainland conspecifics. We speculate that the Hawaiian hoary bats we observed were locally resident and frequenting high-quality habitat near familiar structures. In contrast, hoary bats observed at wind facilities on the mainland appear to approach and investigate unfamiliar landscape structures that they mistake for trees as they migrate long distances. Consequently, Hawaiian hoary bats may be less susceptible to fatality at wind turbines on a per-encounter basis than hoary bats in North America. Only one bat carcass was found at the four turbines searched daily for six months. The relatively high probability of finding carcasses provided strong assurance that few carcasses were likely missed - there was less than a 10% chance that total fatality at the four turbines monitored for half a year exceeded three bats.