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Birds and windows: a deadly dilemma


   

Hokie Bird with students around a table The HokieBird hopes Becky Schneider (standing) and her fellow researchers will find an effective solution to the problem of bird-window collisions at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.


May 15, 2015 – When a bird flew into the window of Becky Schneider’s office at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in September 2013, the avian ecologist rushed outside and found a stunned flycatcher that flew off shortly afterward. A few weeks later she heard a bird fly into her co-worker’s window; the scarlet tanager was not as lucky and died from the collision. “I looked at the windows and saw how reflective they are — more like mirrors than windows,” said Schneider, a project manager with the Conservation Management Institute.

With the permission of the corporate research center, Schneider and a troop of volunteers began surveying bird collisions with windows in the park that October and documented over 200 fatalities in a year’s time. Photos and a running tally of the birds found are posted on Schneider’s blog, “Hope Is the Thing With Feathers.” The team has identified 50 species that have died from window collisions.

“People don’t realize the number of species that are being killed. They think it is just starlings and house sparrows,” said volunteer Kara Kosarski (’13 B.S. wildlife science). She and Chrissy Barton (’12 B.S. animal science) are the longest serving of the project’s 17 total volunteers.

The study has identified the worst of the corporate center’s buildings and narrowed it to specific sides of those buildings to target for treatment. Window films are the best option and can last a few years, “but there is resistance because of the cost and the appearance,” said Schneider. Another method is to hang “curtains” of nylon cords spaced apart on the windows’ exterior.

Coating the windows with UV paint is the least visible option, but the paint has to be reapplied every few months. However, “people might be more willing to use it if it works,” said Schneider. She has received permission to test its effectiveness on one of the privately owned buildings in the park.

It is estimated that close to 1 billion birds die each year in the United States due to collisions with glass. “It can be easy to ignore mortalities at a single site and to reason that the number of birds killed may not cause populations to decline,” said Associate Professor Sarah Karpanty. “Window mortalities at the corporate research center add to window mortality events at other sites, leading to a cumulative negative impact on the population.”

“There are many threats to migratory birds,” Schneider added, “but this is one we can do something about.”


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