We’ve all seen birds go from 60 to zero in a matter of moments. One second a bird is rocketing across the sky, the next its little head is bouncing off a window. Sometimes they shake it off, get up and fly away. However, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 97 million to 976 million times a year, they may die, either immediately or from brain hemorrhaging later. UVic biology honours student Debra Wertman would like to help prevent these deaths at UVic. Wertman’s idea is supported by UVic biology professor Neville Winchester.
“There are around 20 different [window-strike] susceptible species on campus,” says Winchester. He says it was not a problem to document up to 100 individual bird carcasses from October to February about four years ago and adds that this is a conservative number, as carcasses are often quickly devoured by predators. “Even Cooper’s Hawks and birds of prey are susceptible to this, so really it’s all birds, even shore birds, depending on where the building is. It’s significant.”
The high reflectiveness of many campus windows is to blame, according to Wertman. “When we have a window that’s highly reflective and it’s reflecting especially trees, the forest, birds just see it as a continuation of the forest. They fly directly into it and smash their heads.” Her solution is to reduce the reflectiveness of high-hazard windows around campus, particularly those on the engineering building’s lab wing, the back of the law building, the interfaith chapel, the Medical Sciences Building and the Petch/Cunningham Building overpass.
Since barriers are expensive and birds tend to simply fly around interior decals of predatory birds, Wertman suggests UVic protect its windows with a bumpy exterior marker to break the reflection. A Toronto company called Feather Friendly Technologies produces markers that look like lines of dots on the glass and will not obscure the view through the windows. They will, however, be perceptible to birds and prevent deaths. Wertman’s idea, however, has been met with resistance from UVic’s Department of Facilities Management.
In emails with Executive Director of Facilities Management Tom Smith and Director of Operations Glenn Brenan, Wertman was told that Facilities would not take any action due to a perceived lack of resources. Brenan called Wertman’s response “reminiscent of our rabbit hugging friends” in an unintentionally attached email exchange between Smith and Brenan. Wertman argues that resources should not be an issue. She says that even if the university deals with the most problematic windows, it would make a difference. “They are rejecting a good idea and being condescending about it,” she says.
Birds on campus are protected under the Canada Wildlife Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act. Winchester states, “It’s needless mortality. They’ve known about this for years and years, but in building and development these facts are ignored. These buildings are built around . . . financial decisions.”
Smith, though, says he was unclear on the details of Wertman’s suggestion. He was under the impression that she was pushing for full strike-proofing of all campus windows. Given the sheer number of windows on campus, he says this would be a logistical problem.
Smith says that the department would be open to a compromise, however, perhaps allowing for strike-proofing of only high-hazard sites.
“I wasn’t aware that they had any information on where the high-strike spots were. Ms. Wertman never really detailed that in her emails. We would be open to discussion surrounding that information,” says Smith. “We like birds. I like birds. I have a bird feeder outside my window, and I have a bird feeder at my house. We’re not against birds.”
As for the “rabbit hugging” comment?
“That comment wasn’t meant to equate birds with rabbits or draw any false comparisons. We didn’t mean to insult Ms. Wertman. It’s just that when we were dealing with the rabbit people, they were constantly threatening to go to the media. When we rejected Ms. Wertman’s idea, well, I’m talking to you.”
To report a bird that has died from a suspected window strike on campus, send a photo of the bird and suspected strike surface along with a description to email@example.com. Live injured birds should be reported to the BC SPCA Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre at 250-478-WILD (9453).