Campus efforts to reduce bird strikes take flight

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From afar, the windows of the Western Interdisciplinary Research Building (WIRB) appear as vivid as all outdoors. Fluffy clouds scud across a bright blue sky.

But approach it as a bird might and it’s soon apparent that the expanse of windows is a solid object that sports an array of dots – enough dots, campus officials hope, to persuade feathered wildlife that this is an obstacle to fly around. Not through.

Recently, Western applied a bird-deterring film to the exterior of a third window-wall of the WIRB, in addition to two sides that were similarly treated as the building opened in 2018. As a result, the WIRB has had fewer bird strikes, despite being one of the most glassed buildings on campus.

Elizabeth Krische, Associate Vice-President (Facilities Management), said the third window treatment was applied after some expressed concerns about bird-window collisions. The added application came from money still available from that building’s construction budget.

But it’s not cheap; buying and installing the film on the WIRB alone cost $90,000.

Volunteers surveyed several Western buildings at the same time each day between April 1 and May 31, avian researcher Brendon Samuels, whose doctoral research at the Advanced Facility for Avian Research examines how birds see windows.

Since the beginning of April, Samuels and his team have documented and mapped 137 collisions on campus, including a red-tailed hawk that flew into Spencer Hall on July 16 and is now recovering at a wildlife sanctuary. Others include house sparrows, robins, cedar waxwings and different species of warblers.

Across campus, the hardest-hit building is the International and Graduate Affairs Building (IGAB), with a main window wall that looks like a continuation of forest and sky. It had 28 hits during the measured time, followed by Brescia University College with 16; Althouse Faculty of Education and Elborn College with 12 each.

Before WIRB’s newest window treatment, researchers counted six bird strikes. Since then, just two.

Samuels believes bird-window collisions are vastly under-documented – with most dead birds having been scavenged and injured ones having flown away before observers could find them.

There’s a huge amount of reflective glass on campus, Samuels said, and a lot of bird-attractive areas such as woodlands and water.

Some products found at birding stores – decals of hawks or owls or hummingbirds, for example – don’t seem to work, perhaps because they’re spaced too far apart.

The grids of dots, if applied to the exterior side of windows, do seem to have an effect in letting birds know it’s a solid surface that should be avoided

“Authorities and experts say this is the solution to the problem,” he said. As a researcher, he is collecting data to determine if data support anecdotal evidence. “Science hasn’t caught up with the why and how. We don’t really know what works now. We only know what seems to be effective, based on this limited data.”

Samuels has installed video cameras on buildings off campus to understand better how birds react to highly reflective glass. “These are useful tools for us because we’re able to get into a bird’s head and determine how quickly they see these obstacles.”

Western is working towards solutions that will deter bird-window collisions, Krische said.

“We’re looking at options of what we can do.”

Budgetary constraints sometimes mean making difficult decisions – and treatments for all windows would be a big-ticket item.

Samuels would prefer a triage approach to apply long-lasting products that would provide good return on investment.

Western, he said, benefits from being in the heart of Carolinian zone, with biodiversity that should be considered among its assets.

“There are over one million species at risk of extinction because of anthropogenic activity – because of what humans do. The way we can think of this is, how can we minimize the harm here? How do we continue to enjoy our campus and continue to enjoy biodiversity?”