Efforts with Bird Groups Will Reduce Collisions on Campus

Working with the local community and experts from American Bird Conservancy,Northwestern University is using state-of-the-art solutions to keep birds fromdying in collisions with glass walls and windows.

The measures put Northwestern in the vanguard of a growing movement among U.S.colleges and universities to implement practical, effective, and cost-efficient strategies to reduce bird strikes, which kill up to 1 billion birdsa year in the U.S. alone.

Unlike humans, birds do not understand the concept of glass as a transparentbarrier. They take glass reflections as open landscapes and, thinking theyhave a clear path, crash into a solid surface instead.

“We’re taking an active, multi-tiered approach to bird collisions, looking atnew construction, existing structures, and at the daily building-managementlevel,” said Bonnie L. Humphrey, Director of Design in Northwestern’sFacilities Division.

The solutions Northwestern has adopted include applying patterned window filmto problematic existing windows and choosing glass with patterns visible tobirds in some new construction projects. “It’s part of our ongoing commitmentto sustainability,” Humphrey said.

The university’s location on the shore of Lake Michigan makes this workespecially important. Millions of migrating birds pass along the lakeshore andthrough the greater Chicago area every spring and fall. Northwestern’s campussits squarely in the corridor “where birds want to move and rest during theirmigration,” said Annette Prince, Director of Chicago Bird Collision Monitors.“Obstacles are being put in their path that wouldn’t have existed before.”

Prince’s group picks up about 5,000 birds a year injured or killed bycollisions in one square mile of downtown Chicago alone. The birds they findcome from some 170 species, from Wood Thrush and many species of warbler tolarger birds like bitterns. “The things we find sometimes are astounding,”Prince said. “We got a Painted Bunting one year. Even waterfowl can beimpacted.”

Northwestern is one of several colleges and universities with campuses on ornear the lakefront. “They all have similar styles, featuring glass walls, skybridges, and walkways between buildings that can be deadly for birds,” Princesaid. “Northwestern is setting a powerful example that we’d like to see otheruniversities follow. Ideally you treat a whole building. If you can’t do that,you can at least treat the most dangerous areas.”

The local bird-monitoring community has been concerned about glass buildingson the Northwestern campus since the Searle Building went up in 1972,according to Libby Hill of Bird-Friendly Evanston. The newest, the KelloggGlobal Hub, home to the University’s Kellogg School of Management, opened inMarch 2017. It features a sleek, glass-rich design that reflects sky, treesand bushes, and the lake — creating a hazard for birds that can’t see the hardsurfaces lurking behind the reflections.

Allison Sloan of Bird-Friendly Evanston monitored the Kellogg building forbird strikes in May 2017. Sloan and other local birders got in touch with AlanAnderson, Executive Director of Northwestern’s Office of Neighborhood andCommunity Relations. Anderson facilitated an introduction to Shawn Graff,American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President for the Great Lakes Region, andChristine Sheppard, Director of ABC’s Glass Collisions Program, for expertadvice.

“Having data from local bird monitors, plus Northwestern’s commitment, madeour job easy,” Sheppard said. “We were given free rein to audit the campus,and Searle and Kellogg were the obvious priorities for phase I. There are nowmultiple options for remediating glass. For the Searle building, for instance,Northwestern’s team selected Solyx horizontal bird safety film, a solutionwith low visual impact for humans.”

Local bird monitors praised the University for taking quick action and forshowing the way. “They realized the opportunity to be a model of how auniversity campus can mitigate bird collisions,” Hill said. “This is a hugeadvance toward bird safety on campus.”

The work will continue. “We look forward to continuing our partnership withthe University and using our collision monitoring data to help locate problemareas and find effective solutions to protect the birds,” Hill said.

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