Monday, October 29, 2012

Cities are avian killing fields

The sleek glassy aesthetic of modern cities has proven to be a fatal kind of urban wilderness for birds, which have a hard time distinguishing between safe open sky and reflective glass. Migratory songbirds unfamiliar with local settings are especially at risk. (Birds that have adapted to urban settings, like pigeons and gulls, rarely crash into buildings.)

Photo credit: Ian Williams for The New York Times

A recent article in the New York Times highlights the problem in Toronto, which is considered "a top contender for the title" of "the world’s most deadly cities for migratory birds."

It is hardly a small problem. The article states that the founder of a Toronto non-profit, the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), which rescues injured birds and cleans up carcasses, "once single-handedly recovered about 500 dead birds in one morning."

Toronto may hold the dubious if unofficial honor of heavyweight champion when it comes to killing birds, but it is hardly unique. The website of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative states, "It is estimated that between 100,000,000 and 1 billion birds are killed annually in North America by collisions with buildings – primarily by collisions with windows.  Of all birds that collide with window glass, more than 50% of these experience head injuries and die outright.  An additional unknown number receive injuries that may lead eventually to death."

If it were common knowledge that we kill nearly a billion birds each year, wouldn't we do something about it?

In Milwaukee, a group called "Wings" (for Wisconsin Night Guardians for Songbirds) does work similar to FLAP in Toronto. Wings is a program of the Wisconsin Humane Society. The program depends on volunteers. Check out their website to see how you can help.

But the only sustainable solution to the problem lies in the buildings themselves. According to the Times article, public policies, new building codes, and retrofitting existing reflective glass windows are just beginning to catch up with this reality.

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