10 min read

Millions Of Birds Are Dying — But You Can Do One Simple Thing To Stop It

This is the second-leading cause of bird deaths.

<p><a href="https://www.facebook.com/WeeFolkArt/photos/a.160829740298.148181.160623535298/10152959096660299/?type=3&theater" target="_blank">Facebook/Wee Folk Art</a></p>

It's one of the most spectacular rites of fall - millions of birds taking to the skies bound for sunnier, southern climes.

Many of these birds, like hungry truckers on long-distance hauls, will descend on urban areas to gorge on whatever they can get, in between hundreds of power naps.

And, sadly, many won't leave the city alive.

Just ask Annette Prince, director at Chicago Bird Collision Monitors . On average, in a single square mile of the city, her team will find 5,000 birds dead or dying birds over the migration period, which typically lasts until the onset of winter. They're victims of a terminal inability to tell the difference between glass and thin air.

FLAP Canada

"It's just the tip of the iceberg when we say we find 5,000," Prince tells The Dodo. "We don't even get every bird because they're out on rooftops."

Besides, she adds, multiply that square mile by all the glass of a city like Chicago, and you'll get a grim picture of what happens to as many as one billion birds during the migratory season.

Fall migration sends around 650 species of birds south - anywhere from the central and southern U.S. all the way to South America. And, of all the North American cities these flocks pass over, Toronto, Canada, nestled in the Great Lakes, is considered a transit mega-hub.

"There are hundreds of thousands, even millions of birds, that stream through the southern Ontario region during the migration season," Michael Mesure, executive director of FLAP Canada, tells The Dodo.

"And among the many perils they face, birds have to contend with the built environment - windows of homes, office towers - any human-built structure with glass is deceiving to them. It fools them into believing that it's just a part of their environment and they end up colliding with windows without understanding the glass that's in front of them."

If you live in a city, at some point, you've probably heard a bird crash against the glass.

"People can relate to it," Mesure says. "They just haven't stopped to do the math. That if that one person has seen one or two strikes, well, guess what. Multiply that by every individual in the country and you very quickly come up with what's considered the second leading cause of bird death in the country."

(And that first cause of bird deaths? Cats. Please keep them inside.)

While Mesure cites Canadian statistics, the same problems hold true for most major cities in the U.S. In fact, for birds, a city of glass spells a world of pain.

FLAP Canada

Mesure's group, which has been raising awareness, educating and pushing for a bird-friendly Toronto since 1993, has inspired similar models across North America, from San Francisco to New York City to Houston.

And while both Mesure and Prince push developers to build bird-friendly cities - everything from patterned decals stuck to the glass to thin layers of film that remove transparency on the outside of a window - there is, in fact, a very simple thing you can do right now to save lives.

Birds just need a head's up. Like something on the surface of the window that suggests it isn't a fly-through.

"All one really needs to know is the formula," Mesure says. "To really understand that in order for a bird to avoid colliding with a window, they have to put markers on that window that cover the entire surface of that glass without hindering our ability see through that glass."

FLAP Canada

The marker can be anything - a dot, zigzag, checkerboard - but it does have to be applied uniformly on the window at space intervals of no more than four inches up and down.

"It's a tight enough space that the bird can still see the reflection," Mesure explains. "They can still see what's on the other side of that glass. But they go, 'You know what, I can't fit through that space. It's too tight for me to feel I can slide through without bashing into something. I'm going to fly around it.'"

And the results are obvious.

"As you start to slowly increase that space between those markers, the strikes slowly but surely start to increase," he says.

Here's the thing. Not many people are into having decals or markers all over their windows. After all, isn't the whole point of a window to see through it?

Well, it's a funny thing about patterns. People tend to notice them a lot less than they think. As an example, Mesure recalls a case where office buildings installed patterns over the windows.

"What the building operators did was they put a damage control system in place to deal with complaints from tenants," Mesure explains. "Up go the markers. Not a peep from the tenants. They interview the tenants and ask them what they think of the markers on the windows.

They go 'What markers? I didn't even notice them.'"

Even if you're not into adding stickers or any film over your windows, even temporarily, there are other options.

Annette Prince even suggests plants in front of windows.

"Putting a barrier between birds and glass is what it's about," she says. "Putting something on the surface of the glass or something in front of the glass, even screening."

Remember, it's just for the migration season, which runs up until the winter months. And saving lives can have a funny way of improving the view.

Visit FLAP's website for more information on how you can make homes and office buildings safer for birds.