Bird species face a number of threats as they go about their daily lives. Foremost, they must be ever vigilant of predators of all sorts - other birds such as birds-of-prey like Great Horned Owls and Cooper’s Hawks - and a host of mammals, snakes, even fish in some cases! Layered on this are the significant and numerous threats posed by one specific mammal - Homo sapiens - that are adversely affecting birds, causing many species to decline, some dramatically.
These suite of threats include: poisoning both intentional and incidental (oil spills); flying into wind turbines and power lines; destruction of wild habitats upon which birds depend; predation by feral and outdoor-roaming pet cats; the still evolving, multiple pronged threats posed by climate change; and birds dying when they fly into highly reflective or transparent windows. Seatuck is focusing on this last threat in the hope that local and New York State lawmakers implement a set of strategies that begin to reduce the magnitude and scope of this source of avian mortality.
The number of birds that die from flying into windows is staggering. Based on a detailed 2014 study between 365 and 988 million birds die annually from this cause; that comes out to between 1 and 2.7 million birds daily. Common collision victims in New York include hummingbirds, sparrows, owls, numerous warbler and thrush species, American Woodcock; in total several dozen bird species regularly die flying into windows since they do not see them for what they are - an unyielding, rigid, surface.
The problem stems from two basic characteristics that most windows have - either they’re transparent, allowing birds to see some inviting feature on the other side of the window pane or are highly reflective, creating a mirror-like image of the adjacent landscape the bird wants to travel to. The transparency problem can be especially problematic when there’s another transparent window aligned with the first, creating an alleyway the bird thinks it can negotiate through.
But there is much good news amidst this deadly despair, most notably the development of a number of “bird friendly windows” and window treatments by private companies that can reduce or eliminate the magnitude of the impact. One example of many, is the emergence of windows that reflect patterns of UV light in the glass; the window pane looks normal to the human eye which cannot discern ultraviolet light but to s bird the pane is revealed as the bird sees the UV-reflecting pattern - and knows to steer clear of the window. Other solutions involve the use of fritted (small numerous dots in the glass spaced inches apart) and frosted glass.
For existing windows there’s a variety of decals, stickers or whole window films that can be applied that are effective in reducing collisions as they eliminate either the transparent or reflective nature of the window pane. You can also apply netting, screening, and vertical strings in front of the window.
Seatuck is addressing the problem in three ways. First, we are commenting on specific development proposals such as the proposed new entertainment venue at Belmont Race Track, the new nature centers at Hempstead Lake and Jones Beach State Parks, and SUNY Stony Brook’s proposed 100,000 square foot Engineering Building, urging project sponsors to use bird friendly glass. Second, we are consulting with some building managers and owners on steps they can take to reduce bird strikes at their facilities including one middle school in a Suffolk County School District. Lastly, we are working with state lawmakers and key bird conservation groups such as the American Bird Conservancy, NYC and NYS Audubon, to introduce (and adopt!!) state legislation mandating bird friendly windows in new construction, and to provide financial incentives and state environmental funds to retrofit existing problematic buildings.