Stop­ping birds from fly­ing into glass

The News-Times (Sunday) - - News - ROBERT MILLER Con­tact Robert Miller at earth­mat­ter­[email protected]

The Sci­ence Build­ing at Western Con­necti­cut State Univer­sity in Dan­bury is a green mar­vel. It’s pow­ered by fuel cell tech­nol­ogy. It’s re­ceived recog­ni­tion from the Lead­er­ship in En­ergy and En­vi­ron­men­tal De­sign for its en­ergy ef­fi­ciency.

But birds keep fly­ing into it, con­cussing their brains or break­ing their necks.

“I’ve heard some oc­ca­sional birds fly­ing into the build­ing, knock­ing them­selves out,” said Mitch Wa­gener, pro­fes­sor of bi­o­logic and en­vi­ron­men­tal sciences at Western. “It’s prob­a­bly hap­pen­ing at our green­house, too.”

The prob­lem is sim­ple. The build­ing has a glassed-in atrium where stu­dents can gather in an hos­pitable open space. Birds see it that way too. But they are obliv­i­ous to the bar­rier in front of them.

“Birds can’t un­der­stand glass as a con­cept,” said Chris­tine Sheppard of the Amer­i­can Bird Con­ser­va­tory, who spoke at the univer­sity in Novem­ber. “Glass is ev­ery­where,” she said.

As a re­sult, the Amer­i­can Bird Con­ser­va­tory es­ti­mates, , that 300 mil­lion to 1 bil­lion birds die in the United States ev­ery year be­cause of col­li­sions with build­ings.

“Most are killed the first time they en­counter a build­ing,” said Sheppard, who leads the con­ser­vancy’s bird col­li­sion cam­paign.

Ed Wong, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of bi­o­logic and en­vi­ron­men­tal sciences at the univer­sity, at­tended Sheppard’s lec­ture.

“I’m ab­so­lutely in­ter­ested in pur­su­ing this,” Wong said of ways to re­duce col­li­sions. “It seems like this is a good place to have a bird-friendly build­ing.”

The prob­lem is straight­for­ward, Sheppard said in her talk. Birds don’t see the world like hu­mans do.

“Peo­ple have flat faces with their eyes in front close to­gether,” she said. “We have 3D vi­sion. We see the world as some­thing we walk through.”

Birds, she said, have eyes on ei­ther side of their nar­row heads and don’t see the same thing with both eyes. They may also be see­ing ul­travi­o­let spec­trums of light that hu­mans can’t per­ceive.

There­fore birds don’t un­der­stand glass. If they see trees re­flected in it, they think the trees are real. If they see trees growing in an atrium, they think they can just fly in and perch there.

And they are also prone to fly along nar­row path­ways hu­mans use as land­scap­ing, lead­ing up to a build­ing.

“Birds don’t see architecture,” Sheppard said.

The rea­son we don’t see many of th­ese birds ly­ing around, Sheppard said, is that na­ture is the great re­cy­cler.

“Scav­engers are very ef­fi­cient,” she said.

Peo­ple like light, airy in­te­ri­ors. We use a lot of glass. So this a prob­lem that won’t be re­solved eas­ily or quickly.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to make a dif­fer­ence,” said Patrick Comins, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Con­necti­cut Audubon So­ci­ety.

Comins said some cities have started a “Lights Out’’ pro­grams to dim build­ing lights at night, so birds are less likely to fly into them.

While bird deaths are dis­mal, there are ways to re­duce those num­bers.

“There are so­lu­tions,” she said. To find them, go to the con­ser­vancy’s web­site at https://abcbirds.org/threat/ bird-strikes.

The Audubon So­ci­ety of­fers ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion for bird­ing home­own­ers, sell­ing de­cals peo­ple can put in their pic­ture win­dows.

But there’s a new hitch. The Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion has writ­ten a change into the Mi­gra­tory Bird Act to make “in­ad­ver­tent” bird deaths — by col­li­sions or in­dus­trial ac­ci­dents — ex­empt from any penal­ties, Comins said. You have to con­sciously kill mi­gra­tory birds now to get into trou­ble.

Sheppard said there are ef­forts to get the LEED com­mit­tee to rec­og­nize bird safety. Ar­chi­tects can use bird­friendly glass, with a faint grid pat­tern em­bed­ded in the glass to de­ter col­li­sions.

Mike Trolle, owner of BPC Green Build­ings in Wil­ton, said he had one client who in­sisted on mak­ing their home as bird-friendly as pos­si­ble, in­clud­ing col­li­sion­proof glass.

At Western’s Sci­ence Cen­ter, Sheppard said one way to re­duce bird col­li­sions might be to hang para­chute cord the lengths of the win­dows, spaced out at about 4 inches.

Sheppard said ar­chi­tects can de­sign build­ings with­out be­guil­ing bird path­ways. They can also sim­ply use less glass in their de­signs.

“The more glass, the more col­li­sions,” Sheppard said.

Chris­tine Sheppard / As­so­ci­ated Press

This un­dated photo pro­vided by Amer­i­can Bird Con­ser­vancy shows a bird-friendly de­sign at the School of Phar­macy at the Univer­sity of Water­loo that uses a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als in ad­di­tion to glass, in­clud­ing pan­els de­pict­ing plants that are the sources of dif­fer­ent drugs, in On­tario, Canada.

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