Each year, up to one billion birds are lost to bird building collisions in the United States (Loss et al., 2014). This enormous yearly loss is one of the four top anthropogenic threats birds face leading to a 29% net loss of avian populations in North America (Rosenburg et al., 2019). Additionally, this critical conservation issue threatens biodiversity locally, regionally, and for migrating bird, throughout the Americas. Protecting biodiversity such as birds also increases overall human well-being through visual and audible connections to nature.
Birds are unable to perceive transparent glass surfaces as solid or distinguish between reflections of habitat space or flight paths in the glass. Birds collide head-on into transparent and reflective glass surfaces, killing them, in most cases, instantly. To date, the majority of bird building collision studies focus on fall and spring migration in the central and easter areas of the United States. A 2021 study by DeGroot et al. monitored collisions on the University of British Columbia Campus for five seasons (two winters, fall, spring, and summer), indicating bird building collisions are a year-round problem and collision patterns can vary regionally. College campuses are a hot spot for bird-building collisions, with the University of British Columbia estimating a loss of 10,000 yearly. However, collisions can be prevented through gathering local collision data, bird protecting designs, and education strategies.
This letter proposes the intent to conduct a two-phase, two-calendar year monitoring of a set of University of Washington Seattle campus buildings that have reported collisions. The first phase will monitor campus buildings for collisions beginning in September 2022 during the most fatal season, fall migration, followed by winter, spring, and summer for 45 days each. The collision victims will be collected by student volunteers who will enter the details of the site and species in a data collection file. The deceased birds will be donated to the Burke Museum, which has approved their addition to their collection.
The goal of the first year of monitoring is to provide a year-long set of data to determine the vulnerable species and indicate deadly designs for retrofitting. The first deliverable is a document outlining the collisions monitoring results to be submitted for publication.
With the data gathered from the first fall season, the project can begin to identify buildings to retrofit. Phase 2 of the project will monitor retrofitted buildings for effectiveness. Two issues prevent widely implementing bird protecting designs. First, when comparing current product testing methods such as flight tunnels to case studies, Judy found they overestimate the product’s effectiveness. This will be the first study monitoring bird protecting designs for their effectiveness in an ecologically salient setting. And second, though a few building guidelines advocate protecting biodiversity through preventing collisions, it’s not required, nor do any standards exist. Based on the data gathered in the second year, Phase 2, the second deliverable will provide architects and designers with a set of standards to implement effective bird protecting designs. The data will also be documented and submitted for publication. Further, in the second phase, the project will conduct a perception study of how students, staff, faculty, and campus visitors perceive the bird protecting designs by asking if their site or campus experience is impacted by the addition of these designs. This data will also be documented and submitted for publication, the first on this topic.
Throughout both phases of the project, education and outreach about the importance of preventing bird building collisions will be crucial. A third reason preventing bird building collisions is not widely implemented is the lack of awareness. By reaching students who will enter careers in many of the fields that contribute to collisions, this project will create no stewards for protecting birds and biodiversity. This can be achieved through campus events such as art installations, volunteering opportunities, and informational signs near retrofitted buildings. Local firms and campus architects will be included in the drafting of collision standards. Further, through publication, the data and standards have the potential to educate a global audience of researchers and designers. Through education and outreach, this project will engage with the four main stakeholders: students on campus, the community on campus, in Seattle, and the Pacific Northwest, researchers in avian conservation, and designers or architects.
Conducting a large two-year project requires a project lead who has experience in project management and research. Judy Bowes is a Ph.D. student in the College of the Built Environments and has been a researcher and project coordinator for five years at Penn State University on two NSF projects. The budget reflects a full RA position for two years as the demands of the project do not allow for other RA positions. Judy’s estimated contribution is 800 hours per year ($25,652). Student volunteers are crucial to this project and will require 10-35 volunteers. The students will not only benefit from contributing to campus research but will build a foundation of knowledge of sustainability, bird biology and identification, active stewardship, and increased well-being through campus walks. To support Judy and the volunteers, the budget includes an undergraduate research assistant (160 per year/$2,720) who will assist with entering data, cleaning data sets, and filling in for volunteers as needed. The project requires a faculty member researching daylighting and views for 40 per year ($2,773), Judy’s mentor, a faculty member in architecture (30 hours per year/$2,080), a faculty member (ornithologist or wildlife sciences) to review the publications (12 hours per year/$951), and a collision research consultant (4 hours per year/$800). The material costs to collect the deceased birds are estimated at $3,000 a year. The total yearly budget for the project is $37,975, with a total budget of $75,950.
As humans build with large amounts of glass surface area to increase human well-being through views of nature and natural daylight, we are placing birds in danger threatening local and continental biodiversity. This project asks to consider its funding to further collisions to protect local biodiversity and reach a large audience of researchers and designers.