In fall 2019, leading scientists reported that nearly one out of every three birds in the U.S. and Canada has quietly disappeared since 1970 – a staggering loss of nearly 3 billion birds. Much of that decline is among common New Haven species that we assume are safe and abundant: robins, sparrows, swifts, doves, thrushes. These birds can no longer be taken for granted.
Bird-glass collisions are one of the major causes of this massive decline. Scientists estimate that up to 1 billion birds are killed every year in the U.S. by flying into glass. With 15 million square feet of building space spread across more than 300 buildings, Yale has the opportunity to save thousands of birds by retrofitting its windows.
At Yale, bird-window collisions occur often. In summer 2019, the University updated its construction requirements and joined other universities and cities in requiring that all new buildings be designed to reduce bird deaths. This is a positive step, but it is not enough. The university needs to address existing buildings on campus — most notably the Yale School of Management’s Edward P. Evans Hall — that remain death traps for thousands of birds.
According to an informal carcass survey conducted over the last 18 months by Evans Hall facilities staff, ornithologists at the Peabody Museum of Natural History and concerned community members, 186 birds of at least 37 species were found dead by the glass building’s windows since mid-2018. In a one-year period, 101 birds were found.
Assuming that the death toll remains steady from year to year, it’s fair to estimate that Evans Hall has killed over 600 birds since it opened six years ago and may kill 7,000 or more if it stands for the average 70-year lifetime of a well-maintained commercial building. These numbers are likely significant undercounts because dead or stunned birds are often picked up by scavengers and some birds that strike windows are not killed on impact, but fly off and die elsewhere from injuries.
Most of the 186 dead were migratory songbirds, such as ruby-crowned kinglets, song sparrows, black-and-white warblers, dark-eyed juncos and black-capped chickadees. A rare Bicknell’s thrush, a species the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed as “vulnerable” and of highest conservation priority, was also killed. It was the first Bicknell’s thrush added to the Peabody’s collection since 1975. Another casualty, an American kestrel, is listed as a species of special concern in the Connecticut Endangered Species Act. Its population in this area has declined by 93 percent in the last 50 years. White-throated sparrows, down by more than 93 million birds in North America since 1970, were among the most common victims. If you walk around the fourth floor of Evans Hall, you can often spot ghostly, bird-shaped impressions left by mourning doves’ powdery feathers hitting the glass.
The birds are typically killed by head trauma, intracranial pressure and bleeding in the brain. Sometimes their beaks are broken.
The good news is that there are proven, effective, aesthetically attractive, affordable solutions to prevent bird-glass collisions. These solutions have been presented to administrators multiple times over the past several years. What is needed now is for those solutions to be implemented. Every week that a solution is delayed, more birds die unnecessarily.
One of the easiest retrofit solutions to prevent bird-glass collisions is to apply bird-safe window films or markers to the areas that birds most commonly hit: see-through glass passageways and corners, glass that reflects nearby vegetation and glass inside open-air courtyards. These products, which are sold at commercial scale by major companies, feature lines, subtle dots or custom patterns that make glass surfaces visible to birds. Their effectiveness at deterring birds has been proven repeatedly in experimental and real world settings, including at Northwestern and Duke Universities. University of Pennsylvania significantly reduced bird hits on two glass pavilions by installing window treatments for a total cost of $22,000. With this relatively easy and affordable fix, Yale can become part of the solution to our nation’s bird crisis, instead of part of the problem.
Installing these films on problematic campus windows will benefit humans as well as birds. Yale’s custodians regularly pick up the birds and brush off the sidewalk before faculty and students arrive. “No one at Yale wants birds flying into the glass,” SOM’s Director of Facilities Bob Saidi told the News in 2016. “Aside from concern over the birds themselves, we have the disturbing sight of dead birds lying just outside the building, and our custodial staff has to remove the bodies.”
According to the school’s mission statement, Yale School of Management aims to empower students and alumni to “pursue positive and ambitious change … with keen awareness of and respect for its impacts on workers, communities and the environment.” Let us start that positive change here at home. Here, we have literal windows of opportunity to do good.
VIVECA MORRIS ’15, MEM ’18, MBA ’19 is an Associate Research Scholar in Law and the Executive Director of the Law, Ethics & Animals Program at Yale Law School. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .