Three more locations on campus are being retrofitted with bird-friendly window films as Western continues to pursue protective measures for local wildlife.
Large sections of exterior windows on International and Graduate Affairs Building (IGAB), Elborn College, and the new Alumni Hall bike shelter will soon sport dotted decals designed to prevent birds from colliding with the windows. Installation has begun with the initial application underway at IGAB and Elborn College, and plans to finish off with the bike shelter by the end of the year.
“With our campus positioned along the banks of the Thames River, there comes a need to balance the built and natural environment,” said Elizabeth Krische, associate vice-president, facilities management. “There are many times when those two environments cross over and we are taking action to soften those interactions.”
The innovative treatment will complement the array already installed on the first three levels of the Western Interdisciplinary Research Building (WIRB) in 2019. One of Western’s more modern, glass-clad buildings, WIRB was seen as a potential hazard to migratory species by avian experts. Sharing these concerns, Krische earmarked roughly $100,000 of the WIRB construction budget to mitigate the threat to nearby birds. The effort has resulted in significantly fewer reported collisions. This year’s window projects are expected to have similar outcomes.
“We have seen success at WIRB and are hoping for the same at other sites,” said Krische. “The three new applications are in places that have been identified for their proximity to naturalized areas and have large, reflective surfaces.”
Dots mark the spot
From a distance, the window film is not visible and will do little to change the aesthetic of the building. Once within range, the small, dime-sized dots that spread two inches apart, become more visible to the human eye – and more importantly, to the bird’s eye. The dots break up the reflection from the windows and create visible obstacles to be avoided.
The recent window treatments at Western also supports a wider effort by the municipality to protect local and migratory species. The City of London was recently acknowledged as a Bird Friendly City by Nature Canada. The certification recognizes Canadian municipalities for making their regions a safer and better place for birds. Along with the work to mitigate window collisions, London officials have also committed to a reduction in light pollution and protecting biodiversity. Western supports city hall’s push for a more bird-friendly environment.
“One of the draws for Western is the beautiful campus in a great city, known for it’s vibrant natural habitat,” said Krische. “We acknowledge the appeal and are keen on protecting it.”
Window collisions by birds are increasingly becoming a significant conservation issue, said Brendon Samuels, an avian researcher and PhD student at Western. The challenge with researching bird-window collisions is that often, fallen birds found on the ground are just a small representation of the extent of the problem.
“Finding dead bird bodies only gives us a narrow glimpse of what’s actually going on because often when birds hit windows, they fly away after and they don’t leave a trace, and we don’t know. So no matter what I find, the problem is likely quite a bit larger. And I try and account for that, but we’re only really getting a fraction of what’s going on,” he explained.
Although research on bird-window collisions can be quite complicated, Samuels said that across Western campus, some buildings are more prone to incidents of bird crashes. Structures with mirrored windows – such as the International and Graduate Affairs Building – are one of the most obvious ones, said Samuels, whose research involved walking around campus, collecting data and identifying buildings that pose the most hazard to the winged creatures.
“What we were finding was a lot of birds were being killed as they were trying to pass from the patch of old-growth forest behind the building into a reflection, which mirror an extension of that forest; as well as birds at the front of the building that were likely flying across the field to try to get towards that forest,” he said.
Samuels also pointed to public misconception that seem to view high-rise buildings in city centres as the most dangerous to birds; in fact, he said, low- to mid-rise buildings are usually the culprits.
“It’s buildings that are like the ones we have on campus, but it’s also a lot of residential homes because a lot of people have backyards and trees that attract birds and windows that reflect those trees. And there’s simply many more homes than there are high-rise buildings,” he said.
Samuels said he is excited to see Western taking action to make its buildings safer for birds. “My hope is that this kind of action will lead to stronger, healthier biodiversity on the campus,” he said.
Beyond bird safety, the efforts by the university to retrofit existing windows also serve another important purpose, Samuels said.
“Part of why I’m really excited to see this kind of action on our university campus is that it serves a public education role, where people walking through the campus … are also learning about the way that our society needs to adapt to conserve our biodiversity, adapt to a changing climate. And one of those is the way that we build buildings and the way that we use glass.
“People will walk by the buildings and see dots on the windows, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, what’s that for?’ and there’s information about it. And then they will understand if a bird ever hits their window at home, this is how they should go about fixing it. So there will hopefully be ripple effects throughout society if we teach people while they’re at a university like Western.”
Window collisions kill between 16 and 42 million birds a year, according to data from Environment and Climate Change Canada. In the U.S., up to 988 million birds die from preventable window collisions per year.
“In 2019, 84 bird strikes were reported at IGAB, with concentrations near the wooded area, and another 59 were observed along smaller sections of glass at Elborn,” said Krische. “We expect this work to vastly reduce the number of avoidable collisions on campus.”
Western plans to integrate bird-strike-deterrent features on all future new buildings at Western, Krische added.