WSU buildings should protect birds

Window collisions cause 1 billion bird deaths per year, according to study



Jessica Tir holds a Lesser Goldfinch found near Ableson Hall. Tir's research found the building is responsible for more bird deaths than any other on campus.

JESSICA TIR, Evergreen columnist

WSU has made great progress towards making our campuses eco-friendlier, but its buildings still pose a significant hazard for migratory birds. If WSU wants to set a bold example, it needs to consider more bird-friendly building designs.

The Pullman campus has plenty of huge windows that look out onto the Palouse. While these windows are enjoyed by staff and students alike, they are deadly to birds. Windows can be invisible to birds, which results in head-on collisions with the glass. While some birds are only stunned and survive the collision, others suffer fatal skull fractures. A 2014 study estimated that window collisions account for up to one billion bird deaths in the U.S. each year. This estimate makes window collisions the second-largest cause of death for birds due to humans.

Addressing these major hazards is important because up to one-third of North American birds are at-risk of extinction without intervention.

Windows on campus have resulted in the deaths of a wide variety of birds including finches, sparrows, warblers and hawks. Kelly Cassidy, curator of the Conner Vertebrate Museum, said that hundreds of birds who died due to window strikes on the Pullman campus have been added to the museum’s collection over the past several years.

“We have 245 birds who hit the sky-walk,” Cassidy said, referring to the glass walkway between Heald and Abelson. “That’s just what’s been kept.”

This number doesn’t give a complete picture of how many birds are dying on campus, because most of those museum specimens are only from one area. The number of birds that are brought to the museum does not give an accurate estimate of the true number of victims.

“The thing is, what people pick up or what you see is undoubtedly just a tiny fraction of the birds that hit because there’s a regular crew of scavengers,” Cassidy said.

Squirrels, cats and magpies often grab the dead birds before anyone notices.

The most aggressive solution that WSU could take to alleviate this problem would be to design future buildings with fewer large windows. However, this option is unlikely to be adopted because windows are such a widely loved feature. Some buildings such as The Spark would lose their ambiance without the massive windows that overlook our scenic campus.

Fortunately, there are options that can help protect birds without compromising architectural design. One option that can be implemented in new buildings is GlasPro’s Bird Safe glass. This type of glass relies on birds’ ability to detect ultraviolet light. To humans, the glass is invisible. For birds, the glass has glowing ultraviolet lines that discourage birds from attempting to fly through.

There are also ways to prevent window collisions for buildings that have already been constructed without replacing the currently installed glass. Patterned adhesives and window treatments are effective and comparatively low-cost methods of reducing bird deaths on existing buildings.

Several college campuses across the U.S. have begun taking measures to address this problem. Duke University identified a similar problem on their campus and retrofitted their most problematic buildings with patterned adhesives. Oregon State University has also started the process of recognizing and dealing with window collisions.

WSU has the opportunity to be at the forefront of this issue by retroactively making our buildings bird-friendly and considering window collisions in future building design. Taking these steps will make WSU a leader in protecting our local wildlife and will set an example for other campuses across the country.