By Jon Rice and James Whitacre
Almost 600 million birds die every year in North America after colliding with buildings. BirdSafe Pittsburgh, which has been a museum program for over four years, has collected over 1,500 birds that collided with windows. These birds have been collected in Downtown and surrounding areas, and through our efforts, we have learned what increases the likelihood of birds colliding with windows.
Locating and Researching Bird Strikes
Using the power of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), we have been tracking and collecting where birds have collided with windows. This will help us to find collision hotspots and assess the types of buildings that cause the most problems for birds. Our efforts so far have concentrated on downtown Pittsburgh with a crew of dedicated volunteers.
However, we are now inviting you – the public – to help us find bird strikes in your neighborhood. We have developed a form on our website for you to add bird strikes to our database. If you find a bird dead or stunned, you can help us add to our database of bird strikes using the form. It will guide you through how to add pictures of the bird, add the location to the map, and fill out the required data. Any bird added will help us expand our research.
We already know that skyscrapers, low-rise buildings, and residential houses alike threaten birds, albeit unequally. According to a study published in 2014, low-rises account for the majority of building related mortalities at 56%, with residential houses accounting for nearly all the rest at 44%, and high-rises only accounting for less than 1%. But, how do the buildings in downtown Pittsburgh and the surrounding neighborhoods fit into this picture?
By analyzing the precise locations of bird strikes in Pittsburgh using GIS, we hope to assess the types of buildings impacting bird deaths. By collecting fine scale data where birds strike windows, we could identify specific problem windows that birds strike more often than others. This would allow us to focus mitigation efforts to specific areas of concern rather than along an entire building façade. For instance, treating 10 windows on a building side instead of all 100 windows would result in considerable cost-savings while maintaining the same effect on decreasing bird strikes.
How You Can Help Save Birds
Birds hit windows because of the reflections caused by sunlight hitting the glass and looking like open sky, trees or habitat. By breaking up the reflections with anything following a “2-inch-by-4-inch rule,” birds are less likely to strike the window. The 2-by-4 rule refers to the space between horizontal elements at no more than 2 inches apart, and the space between vertical elements at no more than 4 inches apart. These simple and cost-effective measures will reduce window collisions while maintaining the aesthetic qualities.
By helping us collect bird strike data and modifying the windows of your home or business, we can decrease the number of bird-window collisions and maintain stronger bird populations.
More information about BirdSafe Pittsburgh can be found at birdsafepgh.org.
Jon Rice is Citizen Science Assistant and James Whitacre is a GIS Research Scientist at Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Powdermill Nature Reserve. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.