Toronto is one of the most popular stop-offs for migrating birds. It is also among the most deadly.
A city of modern high-rises surfaced in reflective glass, Toronto’s skyline “crosses several major migratory flight paths,” The New York Times reports. The result is lethal. One volunteer searching for injured birds collected 500 dead ones in just one morning.
The volunteer founded FLAP, which retrieves dead and injured birds every morning before the commuter rush.
FLAP “estimates that one million to nine million birds die every year from impact with buildings in the Toronto area.” The group stores the bodies in freezers, and the one at their headquarters was nearly full even when the autumn migration season had barely begun.
While urban birds generally know to steer clear of windows (seagulls are so clever about windows that they sit and wait for other birds to fly into buildings so they can eat them), migratory birds, including song birds, are new to the phenomenon and die by the millions. The Smithsonian puts the body count for all of North America at one “hundred million to one billion birds.”
Reflective glass isn’t the only hazard. Clear glass that offers a view through the structure to the outdoors on the other side poses the same risk of bird collisions.
There are solutions. The Smithsonian offers a few:
- Use one-way glass on windows.
- Use shades on windows.
- If you use decals on windows, use many of them and place them fairly close together.
The National Zoo suggests “opaque or translucent curtains” or Venetian blinds to “disrupt the transparent or reflective image” of the glass. For new buildings or those undergoing remodeling, the zoo encourages installing “windows at an angle so that the pane reflects an image of uninviting ground instead of an illusion of safe passage through habitat or into the sky.”
If you use bird feeders or other attractants, the National Zoo recommends placing them close to windows so that birds can’t gather enough momentum to injure themselves if they do fly into the glass panes.
FLAP offers two more alternatives, according to Times writer Ian Austen: covering “the outside of windows up to the height of adjacent trees with the finely perforated plastic film often used to turn transit buses into rolling billboards.” The film can be printed with any design, “although the group has found that a repetitive pattern of small circles…is both effective and less likely to prompt aesthetic objections.” A second FLAP-approved alternative is “etching patterns into” glass.
FLAP has tried promoting these kinds of solutions, but without satisfactory results. So it has turned to the courts. It brought suit “using laws normally meant to protect migratory birds from hunting and industrial hazards to prosecute the owners of two particularly problematic buildings.”
Only one of the two judges considering the cases has ruled so far, and he concluded that the laws were not meant to protect birds from buildings. In just one year 900 birds died on the windows of the office building at issue in the suit, but because the deaths were “inadvertent,” they were not considered illegal. A ruling on the second building is expected this December.