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SAAS Helps Monitor Bird Collisions

Photo of Birds in an Urban Environment

Photo Credit: palinchakjr/istock via

The second biggest human-related threat that directly kills birds is collision with glass. There are 1 billion birds lost to glass collisions per year. 

This is why Seattle Audubon is on campus this month conducting a pilot research project monitoring bird collisions in the area. Seattle Academy has agreed to open up our blocks for the study of bird collisions on and near our campus. 

Founded in 1916, Seattle Audubon is one of the oldest environmental conservation organizations in Washington State. Over the years, it has advocated for land preservation and restoration in areas such as the North Cascades, the Olympics, and Elwa lands. More recently, it has “refined its scope to more of an urban conservation context, and in Seattle specifically,” explains Josh Morris, Urban Conservation Manager at Seattle Audubon. “This means strengthening urban forestry laws; reducing urban hazards like windows, artificial light at night, pesticides; and engaging community members.” 

“Our understanding of the local impact of bird collisions is pretty limited, at this point,” says Josh. A lot of research has been conducted on the East Coast and in the Midwest. They see a lot of collisions with woodcocks and ovenbirds, explains Josh, but we don’t have these species on the West Coast. 

This is why from September 1 – October 31, a team from Seattle Audubon is conducting their pilot season of the project they are calling Seattle Bird Collision Monitoring. They anticipate running this project for at least five years. 

The Bird Collision Monitoring Project is the first study of this kind in Seattle, and among only a handful of collision monitoring projects on the West Coast. 

The team will be out in “the field,” aka around campus and the surrounding neighborhood, 16 times per week though the rest of this month. There are 27 total volunteers who are studying 8 buildings specifically on Capitol and First Hills. They are monitoring at different times throughout the day, between 8 AM - 4 PM, catching when birds are likely to be most active and likely to strike buildings — and also when scavengers may be least likely to remove carcasses. 

So far, the team has only found 5 carcasses — 3 at Seattle University, 1 at Hugo House, and 1 at the Bullitt Center — and rescued 1 injured dove. That’s it. 

“This is curious,” says Josh, compared to other researchers who are dealing with 50 bird collisions per day. We have a much lower density of birds coming through. 

Removal of carcasses is a difficult factor for several reasons. The team has definitely noticed rodent burrows around and they may be responsible for removing carcasses before the team has had the chance to observe them. The team hopes to conduct carcass persistent studies, where they take carcasses and plant them around, and then study how long it takes before a rat, crow, or human removes them. 

The birds may also be resident and may have learned to avoid glass. “It seems like birds have the ability to learn their environment,” says Josh, who observes that crows and pigeons seem to be less vulnerable to window collisions. Though there is not yet conclusive evidence on this theory. 

We don’t understand the collision issue very well and bird collisions are something most of us experience once or twice a year at our homes. But multiply that by millions and millions of homes and buildings,  and what is the impact? 

More than half of these collisions occur with buildings that are four stories or lower — not high-rise buildings. Recent architectural trends tend to be open concept, with surrounding grasses and vegetation, which attracts birds. Single family residences also make good habitat, with trees, and tall window panes. 

“Our goal is integration in city design. We want to tell a local story with local data; one that tells a story that can contribute to, and advocate for, the birds,” says Josh. 

“We know there is a problem and we can all take action now,” urges Josh. 

Josh informs us that there are several steps we can take to make windows safer for birds. Patterns can be applied to windows which break up the reflection so birds can recognize window panes. This can be done with decals, paint, or even soap — anything that breaks up the reflections. There are products like Feather Friendly, which make little dots that can be applied for this purpose. 

Patterns should conform to the “2 by 2 rule,” which dictates that no area larger than 2 x 2 inches is exposed. 

As a school, and as individuals, we can also do our part to learn more about bird conservation through the Seattle Audubon website. 

Josh also reminds us that anyone can contribute to the science of bird collisions. If you discover a bird that hit your windows at home, you can report it here.  

Around campus, you may see the Seattle Audubon team wearing name tags and carrying clipboards. They will be looking in the bushes, possibly with hiking poles or sticks, and poking around the landscape. Be sure to say “hi” and ask questions; but remember — don’t remove or disturb carcasses around campus. They are vital to this Seattle Bird Collision research!

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