Sophia Zhao, Staff Illustrator

Birds are a crucial part of any ecosystem: from seed dispersal to pollinating flowers to feeding on insects, they render important benefits to the environment. 

With ever-growing worry about ecological conservation and biodiversity conservation, bird window collisions have seen increased concern. While there have been informal reports of bird collisions on Yale’s campus since as early as 2005, there has been no systematic effort to address the crisis — until the Bird-Friendly Building Initiative. 

In the fall, eight Yale student researchers took one of three routes — Central, Medical or West — to monitor on-campus bird strikes during migration season. The struck birds were collected and/or documented and the experiment was repeated during eight weeks of the spring season which is when the birds tend to migrate to northern climates. 

“We started the Yale Bird-Friendly Building Initiative with the aim of accelerating the adoption of bird-safe building design on Yale’s campus and beyond,” said Viveca Morris, executive director of law, ethics & animals program at Yale Law School and a lead on the project.

The collected birds were eventually moved to the Peabody Museum after being processed by undergraduate research assistants under guidance of Kristof Zykowski, collections manager in vertebrate zoology, mammalogy and ornithology departments at Peabody.

By the time the team embarked on this project last year, they already had several years of bird-window collision data, but these data collections were opportunistic and mostly restricted to the main campus, according to Zykowski. 

With the support from Yale’s Planetary Solutions grant and with help from a team of dedicated student monitors, the team was able to conduct the first systematic survey that covers most of Yale’s campus. 

After analyzing the data obtained during fall migration, both Morris and Zykowski concluded that collisions occur throughout the campus across any and all regions of it. Still, some buildings have a greater share in bird mortality. 

With support from the Planetary Solutions Project Seed Grant, the initiative is conducting two research projects over the 2022-23 academic year. Zykowski noted that the first project is focused on collecting comprehensive data on the precise locations and frequency of bird-window collisions on Yale’s campus, as well as developing a data-driven plan to significantly reduce these collisions at both new and existing buildings. 

“We hope it will provide a useful and powerful model for other institutions to follow,” Morris said. 

Retrofitting glass facades with “feather-friendly film” has been proven to be effective in controlling bird collisions. 

The second project, explained Morris, is focused on producing a first-of-its-kind report on the effectiveness and potential of emerging city-level public policies aimed at accelerating the adoption of bird-friendly designs at a greater scale. This project will document the experiences of cities with bird-friendly policies and encourage other cities to follow effective ones. 

“We’ve looked at bird-friendly building laws in six cities with case studies coming out on five,  San Francisco, New York, Madison, Cupertino and Arlington,” said Meredith Barges DIV ’23, a student policy researcher for the project who also co-chairs Lights Out Connecticut — a statewide conservation project focusing on migratory birds. 

Barges has been active in conducting interviews with people at the forefront of bird-friendly lawmaking, including government representatives, neighborhood activists, architects and glass suppliers. 

She has sought to assess the practicality of these laws and the types of buildings they apply to. Her work demonstrates the legal trend toward bird-friendly construction. 

All members of the Yale and New Haven community can now contribute to the project on the iNaturalist app.

Omar Ali covers science, technology and academics for the News. Originally from Lahore, Pakistan, he is a sophomore in Berkeley College majoring in Economics with Mathematics and Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology.