Bird Collisions!

birdcoverUpon reading the title of this article, you probably assumed two things: 1) that the VU Times was out of good topics to write about, and 2) Birds collide with each other in midair?!

Neither of these is true. Last week, I was lucky enough to sit in on a lecture called “Bird Collisions: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How to Prevent Them.” This event was held at the Villanova University Law School and hosted by the wonderful Dr. Christine Shepard, the Bird Collisions Campaign Manager at the American Bird Conservancy. Among this organization’s duties is to call attention to an alarming, man-made ecological problem.

Dr. Shepard champions a cause that is around us every day, but that few notice and even fewer have thought to do anything about. Here are some surprising facts about Bird Collisions:

  1. A bird collision is not an air traffic control problem involving two egg-laying vertebrates. Instead, it refers to birds’ bad habit of mistaking glass windows, walls, and mirrors as open spaces and dying due to head-on collisions with these misleading surfaces.
  2. These bird crashes can be caused by several things, including birds experiencing the world as if they are in the middle of it. A bird’s eyes are located on either side of its head, and when in flight are constantly looking to the side or behind for predators. They aren’t focused in front of them as much as we might think. Dr. Shepard compared a bird’s frontward attention to that of a kid texting on a skateboard. Birds also do not notice any signals that humans recognize as indication of a window, like borders or a slight reflection, and instead believe they are flying towards an empty area.
  3. The reason that birds so often fly into glass windows is not only because they assume there is no barrier stopping them from reaching the other side, but also because they are used to flying into small dark spaces to nest. Therefore, birds often try to fly into something they see on the other side of the glass.
  4. Many birds die due to various causes such as wind turbines, cell towers, and power lines, but one of the highest causes of mortality is buildings orglass, which cause between 300,000,000 and one billion deaths every year. That is way too many Tweety Birds to not be concerned.
  5. While songbirds are most at risk from collisions with glass, nearly 300 species have been reported as collision victims, including hummingbirds, woodpeckers, kingfishers, woodcock and birds of prey.
  6. If you are an extremely cruel person, you could ask, “but why do bird deaths matter to us?” Because, you insensitive fool, not only do birds symbolize power, freedom, peace, and longevity in many cultures, but they also provide ecological help by eating the bugs that harm plants. Not to mention, over 50 million people in the US consider themselves “bird watchers,” which translates into a multi-billion dollar industry resulting from the purchase of trendy bird watching gear to travel expenses.

Now that you all are thoroughly invested in the future of our nation’s feathered flying creatures, you probably want to know how to stop such horrible tragedies from occurring. Despite all of this doom and gloom, Dr. Shepard was able to give what she believed to be the proper solution. Simply put, in terms of design changes for already-made glass structures that could be altered, putting something in front of the glass and incorporating specific signals in or on the glass would definitely decrease the bird mortality rate. For projects that have not already been started, minimizing the use of glass in said project would be the most helpful decision. This is extremely important, because addressing only new construction will not decrease the toll from glass already in the built environment. All retrofit strategies range from temporary to long term, inexpensive to costly, highly visible to subtle. In order to protect these innocent birds, we will have to forego a few visual pleasures as a sacrifice for the greater good.

By Madeline McCarthy ’17

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