The forgotten bird killer
I rounded the corner of one of Toronto’s black office towers on a crescent moon night and almost stepped on a tiny, feathery shape huddled near the plate glass window. It was a White-throated Sparrow. Like hundreds of his fellow migrants, this bird had collided with a brightly lit building. It was late April and he was headed towards his breeding grounds, taking advantage of the coolness and lack of predators during the night to speed his nocturnal migration. Suddenly, unsuspecting, he slammed into a wall and plummeted to the concrete below. Luckily, this White-throated Sparrow (pictured) had no obvious injuries and would recover after a period of rest in a brown paper bag lined with tissue or a stick for him to perch on. He would be released that morning in a wild area north of the city, along with dozens of others collected that night.
I am a volunteer with an environmental charity called Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) Canada. FLAP was formed in 1993 to organize a ragtag bunch of bird lovers trying to rescue nocturnal migrants (birds and occasionally bats) that hit the lit skyscrapers. A surprising number of these birds survive their ordeal (about 30% according to stats maintained over 20 plus years) and are released back into the wild. They include everything from warblers, vireos, kinglets, nuthatches, sparrows and flycatchers to hummingbirds, thrushes, owls, hawks, rails, finches and woodpeckers – 170 species in total of which 23 are considered to be species at risk.
In the early years, FLAP focused on finding solutions to the problem of excessive night lighting of tall buildings. Most songbirds migrate at night, navigating by the constellations, the moon and the earth’s magnetic field. Bright lights, especially high up in the night sky, can confuse them causing them to collide with buildings, especially during cloudy or foggy nights. The same happens when birds cross large expanses of water and encounter brightly lit ships. This has been well documented on our oceans, in the Caribbean and even Lake Superior.
In the past decade, FLAP’s focus has shifted to bird collisions during the day with windows in our homes, workplaces, bus shelters, balcony railings, schools, anywhere where transparent or reflective glass or plexiglass is used. According to a recent study by Environment Canada, over 90% of collisions occur at residential buildings. FLAP volunteers and staff still patrol around mirrored corporate buildings where spectacular numbers of collisions can occur when the climatic conditions are “right”. But these dramatic events are, thankfully, few and far between. Bird strikes at smaller buildings, especially those surrounded by vegetation, are far more insidious and kill far greater numbers of birds. Apart from habitat loss and predation by
domestic cats, collisions with human-built structures causes the greatest loss of life among our wild birds. Tragically, many species are in steep decline.
FLAP has developed resources to help homeowners protect birds around their homes. Homes Safe for Birds, a colourful brochure in the shape of a house, explains why and where birds hit and what to do to prevent collisions. It offers easy-to-install, affordable solutions. Visit flap.org to download the brochure or get more information.
Picture Credit: Simon Pierre Barrette