The other day, I watched a documentary by New Hampshire Public Television on bird migration. I learned a few startling facts about habitat loss and other pressures that decimate bird populations, but most alarming of all was that their mortality while migrating is as high as 85%. I doubt that is due to hurricanes and low seasonal food, though these are real risks that the birds have always faced. I’m sure that the majority is due to human activity:
- Building and tower lights on at night throwing birds off course, exhausting and killing them. Birds migrate at night, and the light of the moon used to guide them. Now, our overlit cities and buildings misguide them.
- Critical habitat loss on migration routes. Birds need to land and feed and stay according to the season and weather, before proceeding north (or south) again.
- Bird strikes on power and cellular telephone infrastructure – wires and towers, and not just those of wind turbines.
- Bird strikes on buildings, now more than ever – read Glass architecture is killing millions of migratory birds.
- And the grand winner: Our pet and feral cats are the biggest killers by far. Do not underestimate the carnage that any sweet kitty causes. It’s not good fun. If you absolutely insist – you’re wrong, but still – on putting your cat outdoors, do it only at night, when birds are in flight. During the day they need to come down and search for food, water, and rest.
In every city, architects and developers have made glass structures standard, due to many reasons but permitted by the inactive enforcement of the Birds of Migration Act meant to prevent killing birds. Even Ontario, which has made a few strides against the environmental nuisance of glass cladding (since 2010, Toronto has mandated bird-friendly glass on all new construction, and the 2007 guidelines are here), the Ministry of the Environment tried to soft-pedal it for the powerful development lobby and make the code voluntary.
Things you can learn and do
Until buildings retrofit and cladding fashions change again (in another 25 years), you must do what you can to install bird-safe retrofits in the forms of strings and decals that minimize visual interference for humans, but are clear warnings to the birds that windows reflecting sky and trees is a surface and not a continuation of space for flight.
Read the American Bird Conservancy’s ABCs of Bird-Friendly Building Design to know all about the whys and hows of this important issue. Please share it with friends and colleagues who work in the municipal planning and construction and architecture fields, so they can realize the ramifications of what they build, and build better.
SafeWings Ottawa is the nearest chapter (to Montreal) of a strike-count and prevention group that has good advice on preventing window collisions; FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program) is in Toronto, in the middle of a massive migration flyway. Montreal is not in the middle of a flyway, and it’s been speculated that the lay of our landscape, with the mountain, has in earlier years (before the recent, dense boom in glass tower construction) not resulted in the scale of avian mortality seen in Toronto. That may need more research to see if it’s still the case.
Finally, increase the bird habitat at your property to help migrating and overwintering birds. At the same time, this will increase the chances of a window strike. If you need any help in applying decals, tape, and other means of strike prevention to your windows, click over to Rewilding, let me know, and I’ll gladly help. Or just tell me what you’ve done yourself; I would be happy to shout it on social media for you!
Also published on Medium.