Bird Friendly Corridor at uOttawa

Bird imprint on a window at uOttawa

I don't think that I need to convince you that birds hitting windows and dying is a bad thing. Bird collisions with buildings is right at the top of the list of bird fatalities (along with cats), and with the huge decline of migratory birds in recent years, it makes sense that large institutions do what they can to help reduce collisions.

So here is the first problem. There are no vertical transparent surfaces in nature, thus birds are completely unaware that they are about to hit a window. Birds are often confused because they see the reflection of a tree in the window and try to land on the tree. University campuses are usually covered in windows (modern buildings tend to have lots of windows to let in natural light and convey transparency... also they look cool). And, university campuses have a lot of trees. So mix these two things together and you get a lot of reflected trees causing bird collisions.

Dots to prevent bird collisions on a window at uOttawa

The second problem has to do with the solutions, in that they are expensive. The gold standard solution is to have fretted windows with a repeating pattern that does not allow more then 2 inches of space. If you install windows like this when the building is being built, the cost is negligible relative to the construction cost of the building. This was the case with the STEM Building which incorporates small dots on the windows. But if  you want this done after windows have been installed (like the other 50 buildings at uOttawa), it is an expensive process.

Another solution is to add a window film to the exterior of the window. This solution is cheaper but poorly installed film or cheap materials can cause the windows to look unsightly very quickly. Not to mention that you have to add film to the bottom three floors of your building. This usually requires special equipment to get the installers off the ground and it makes replacing the film that much more difficult.

Students painting patterns on a window at uOttawa

But there is one solution that might just be our saving grace. It is possible to add a highly reflective paint to the window, and this can be done in interesting patterns to help add an additional level of beauty.

So this past Spring, Safe Wings Ottawa won one of the uOttawa TD Environmental Leaders Program Grants. They decided to use the grant to investigate different ways to reduce bird collisions on campus. Their first experiment just wrapped up, the creation of a mural on the glass passage way between the Morisset Library and the UCU building.

This was a great location to work with because the high number of bird collisions. The fact that there are windows on both sides of the passage means that bird assume they can just fly right through. Safe Wings had a call out for artists to come up with a design and worked with volunteers to get the passage painted using white oil based Sharpie pens.

Various patterns on glass doors

The results look great and this opens up so many possibilities on campus. As mentioned, the cost of creating these murals is really low, but there is another benefit... this option isn't permanent. Unlike the other options, the mural can eventually be cleaned off and a new one can take its place. This means personalized murals can be created in various places on campus.

Personalized can mean a lot of things, but on campus this could mean personalizing buildings and programs. Imagine music notes on the Perez building, Topographic maps on Simard, or plans for the Death Star on Colonel By (without out that pesky exhaust port issue of course... our engineers would never make such a mistake). They might even be used as wayfinding tools. The sports related buildings on campus could have sports related icons, windows near a specific Faculty might have its logo, and emergency exits might have prompts on them.

And of course, there is also the possibility of using the windows for promotions or marketing, like a welcome week message or a graduation mural.

Ultimately, creating bird friendly windows on campus doesn't have to be expensive and could actually be a useful tool in creating fun spaces on campus. 
Let us know what cool things you think we could do to make our campus more bird friendly.

 ~jonathan rausseo - campus sustainability expert

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