Thursday, March 12, 2009

Something to think about...Buildings, Lights and Birds

(image from, Toronto avian window strike casualties display at the Royal Ontario Museum,

Someone recently shared a March5th article, Birds, light, glass = fatal mix, on concerning avian window strikes and about an effort in Philadelphia to reduce the number of bird deaths in this large city during migrations. So I figured I'd, in turn, share this information with you. I wonder how many window strikes occur in Atlantic City?

As many of you may know, March 28 is the marked date for the World Wildlife Fund's Earth Hour. The effort of this program is aimed at getting as many of the world's human inhabitants to turn off all lights for one hour, starting at 8:30 p.m. and thus saving hundreds of millions in energy. If you feel like making a bigger impact, you take it one step further. Turn off as much electric in your house as possible! Even better, go to bed early and have all that electric (sans your alarm clock) off for nine or so hours. Get up early the next morning and go out an do a little birding!! At the very least, turn off your lights for the hour and try to keep all other non-essential light off for the whole night.

I am always amazed at the amount of senseless electricity waste due to buildings and signs being lit at night when the building is not open. Sometimes signage is never turned off at night. I understand the idea of advertising, but who are companies advertising to at 3:00 a.m.? Maybe birders up owling?! Good new is, many companies are figuring this out and joining in for programs such as Earth Hour and others.

But Earth Hour is not my reason for posting. While turning off lights helps save energy and expenses (something that is an excellent idea in these monetary and energy lean times), it also helps save birds lives.

It's not breaking news for most birders that window strikes happen and kill birds. At most NJAS center stores you can find an array of items that will help to limit the window strikes in your own home. As the function is generally that birds are trying to fly toward the "trees" reflected in your window, the most effective thing to do is to break up that reflection. I have found one of the most effective products we carry to be the Window Alert static cling decals which reflect UV light and thus make the window more noticeable to flying birds. Also not new news is that big skyscrapers in cities are virtual death traps for birds during migration. These building usually have bright external lights and often even leave internal lights on all night.

Check out the a fore mentioned article and pay special attention to the videos from Toronto provided by FLAP, (Fatal Light Awareness Program) and Chicago (provided by Chicago Bird Collision Monitors). You can actually see the birds circling the building and in a few cases minor collisions. Very revealing, as is of course the opening image (shown above), some of the birds collected during fall migration 2005 at only some of the buildings in Toronto and displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum (about 2100 of the 3500 or so collected that fall).

Another very interesting image is of the "Tribute in Light" at ground zero in New York City. Note that there are numerous birds visible in the beams of light. Though, New York City Audubon, like a growing number of larger cities, has it's own plan in place to help stave off this useless energy drain and needless cause of death to so many migrating birds. One of these was the organization of the Bird Safe Glass Working Group.

Given that this information illustrates the fact that, as research seems to indicate, window strikes are now the number one cause of bird deaths (with feline fatalities being second). The death toll is said to be between 100 and 900+ million a year. There are a few silver linings in the article though. Swarthmore College is noted for taking steps to curb avian collisions in one of its new science buildings. And taking things a step further, they are conducting research on techniques that can be employed post fabrication on glass that will help reduce daytime collisions. At Swarthmore they are using "fritted" glass among other construction techniques.

Another site aimed at bringing awareness of the deaths of migrating birds drawn to lighted structures is Towerkills are much the same as avian building fatalities. Birds are drawn to the aviation lighting on the towers (particularly on cloudy/overcast or foggy nights) and end up circling until exhausted, colliding with other species or guy wires. Towerkills are estimated to be in the 4 to 10 million range.

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