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Birds Collide with Buildings

Ranger Steve

Nearly one billion birds are estimated to die annually by colliding with building windows. Gathering definitive data is a monumental task. Scientists have two ways for analyzing events in nature. 

One is qualitative where numerical information is not present. It includes things such as it is bright outside, leaves are becoming colorful, and dead birds are found by buildings. The other is quantitativewith a numerical measurement. Light meters measure light intensity, 50 percent of leaves have changed color, or 127 dead birds were collected by buildings this year. Quantitative data is needed for scientific analysis.

Under my permit, 127 dead birds were collected in 2018 for a study coordinated with Michigan Audubon and Michigan State University to gather quantitative data for birds killed by collisions with buildings. 

I hold US Fish and Wildlife Service and Michigan DNR permits to collect dead birds. Possessing an American Robin or Red-tailed Hawk feather is illegal without a permit. People wonder why. There are people that will kill songbirds to possess a few feathers or to use them in products sold at craft fairs. Conservation officers visit craft fairs to see if illegal nongame feathers are being sold. Possession of game bird feathers is legal.

At the Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), birds learned to trust us and to land on our hands to eat seeds. Several birds were shot at the birdfeeders. Someone thought it fun to shoot birds that learned to come close to people. Laws were enacted in the early 1900s to help species survive in nature niches because unregulated hunting was threatening several with extinction. Today hunters help bird populations even though they kill birds. Hunting license fees are used to manage habitats for game birds and the DNR monitors numbers quantitatively to manage population size. Nongame species like woodpeckers, goldfinches, and warblers benefit from habitat management. Duck hunters have helped increase waterfowl populations by maintaining wetlands.

It was a tradition on Christmas Day for hunters to compete to see who could kill the most birds in one day. Frank Chapman began the first citizen science Christmas Bird Count in 1900 as an alternative to encourage people to count birds quantitatively instead of killing them. Bird counts are important for documenting winter bird population numbers and distribution. I have coordinated the Grand Rapids quantitative Christmas bird count 32 years but I also qualitatively enjoy birds daily at Ody Brook without keeping number records. 

My salvage bird permit allows me and the people I list on the permit to collect dead birds for educational and scientific analysis. Many birds at HCNC were collected and mounted in life-like position for visitors to see closely and others were mounted in what is called a study skin. Study skin mounts look like the bird is lying dead on its back. Those specimens were used when I taught ornithology at Grand Rapids Community College and for natural history programs. Visit HCNC to see birds you might not get to see easily in the outdoors.

The salvage project with Michigan Audubon and MSU collects birds that hit buildings and provides data that quantifies bird deaths to learn the dates and species impacted. Monitoring weather conditions, wind direction, and fog conditions helps us understand when birds are at greatest risk. That knowledge is used to help us make recommendations that can reduce deaths by adjusting our human behavior to help bird survive.

It is especially important to darken buildings during spring and fall bird migration above the second floor. Most birds migrate at night but fly toward light in the dark. They collide with lighted buildings in the dark. By closing shades to darken windows we can save birds. Schools were recently closed for fog and there are school fog delays to save our kids from being killed going to school in those conditions. Birds do not stop migration for fog delay announcements but we can help them survive by darkening windows and maintaining dark skies. 

I submit a list of the birds collected each year to the US FWS and DNR. Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Cedar Waxwing, Brown Creeper, Brown Thrasher, Indigo Bunting, Rosebreasted Grosbeak, Nashville Warbler, Ovenbird, Sora, and Pine Warbler are some the casualties this year. To enjoy birds in nature it is important that we each take responsibility for helping bird neighbors survive.  

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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