Wind energy is of increasing importance for a sustainable energy supply worldwide. At the same time, concerns about the number of birds and bats being killed at wind turbines have been growing. In this situation, methods for a reliable estimation of bird and bat fatality numbers are needed. To obtain an unbiased estimate of the number of fatalities from fatality searches, the probability to detect the carcass of an animal being killed at a turbine has to be assessed by considering carcass persistence rate, searcher efficiency and the probability that a killed animal falls into a searched area. Here, we describe a new formula to determine the detection probability of birds or bats that are killed at wind turbines and which can estimate the number of fatalities from the number of carcasses found. The formula was developed to analyse a large data set of bats killed at wind turbines in Germany. In simulations, we compared it to three other formulas used in this context. Our new formula seems to have unbiased results when searcher efficiency and carcass removal rate are constant over time. When searcher efficiency or carcass removal rate varied with time, all four formulas showed a similar bias. These comparative results can be used to choose between methods depending on the quality of information available. Our estimator can, for instance, be adapted to different situations including temporal changes of searcher efficiency or carcass removal rate because it is based on an explicit process model.