Safe Flight: Researchers Study Bird-Safe Glass

Even conservative estimates suggest that, in the U.S. alone, one million birds die each day from flying into windows. Some estimates are as high as one billion birds per year. The Allegheny Front's David Hoedeman recently visited Powdermill Nature Reserve in Westmoreland County, where researchers are working to solve this problem.

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OPEN: Even conservative estimates suggest that, in the U-S alone, one million birds die each day from flying into windows. Some estimates are as high as one billion birds per year. The Allegheny Frontís David Hoedeman recently visited Powdermill Nature Reserve in Westmoreland County, where researchers are working to solve this problem.

HOEDEMAN: Andrew Vitz is taking careful measurements of birds that have been captured in a series of nets placed throughout Powdermill Nature Reserve.

VITZ: This is a 0-A, a ruby crowned Kinglet, band number ends in 0 - 8, a hatching year male. [0:13]

HOEDEMAN: Vitz attaches a tiny metal band around one of each birdís legs. Then he either releases them or hands them to Marcia Arland to send through Powdermillís bird-strike tunnel.

[SOUND: Walking to tunnel]

HOEDEMAN: The tunnel looks something like a miniature log cabin. Itís about 20-feet long and five feet wide. On one end is a small opening where birds are released. On the other end, large mirrors reflect sunlight onto two window panes. One pane is a control--standard window glass. The other has been treated to be visible to birds. Small nets are placed in front of the panels to prevent birds from actually hitting the windows.

Arland pulls out a small bird from a sack and slides it through the opening.

ARLAND: OK, here we go, weíve got a song sparrow. He just flew right out of my hand. And he went left. So he flew into the test panel. [0:12]

HOEDEMAN: Arland observes the test through a small peep hole and logs the data on a nearby laptop before releasing the bird through a side door. Each piece of treated glass requires 100 such trials. And there are dozens of pieces of glass.

Arland shows me the stacks of panels waiting to be tested. Some of the treatments are subtle, using UV-reflecting glass or film coverings that birds can theoretically see, but which donít obstruct views for humans. Other glass panels have plainly visible stripes or dots.

ARLAND: So this would be on the outside of the building, this is what the birds would see. And hopefully see that and say, ëoh thatís a solid thing I canít fly through that.í [0:08]

HOEDEMAN: Little research has been done on the issue of glass strikes. The tunnel at Powdermill has only been functional since this past spring. Itís only the second of its kind in the world.

An earlier study focused on finding patterns that would stop birds from hitting glass more than 90 percent of the time. This approach produced windows with highly obstructed views. Dr. Christine Sheppard is the head scientist for the bird strike project at Powdermill. And sheís seeking a more practical, and marketable approach.

SHEPPARD: The project that Iíve been funded, the primary goal of that project was to test commercially available materials. Weíre working with different companies, looking at the kinds of glass you would use in a new building. [0:15]

HOEDEMAN: Architects have shown increasing interest in the U-S Green Building Councilís Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, ratings. Sheppard is working with LEED officials on the bird strike issue.

SHEPPARD: They are definitely in agreement that a green building should not be killing birds so weíre putting together an outline for a bird-friendly innovation credit. [0:11]

HOEDEMAN: Both scientists and glass-makers agree that the gold standard will be glass that is both perfectly clear and perfectly safe for birds. For now, the Powdermill scientists have several suggestions for making home windows bird-safe. Sheppard marks her windows with temporary paint during migration season. Her colleague Andrew Mack hangs nets in front of his home windows. Even changing the location of a bird feeder can have an impact. Sheppard says that the closer the feeder is to the window, the better.

For the Allegheny Front, Iím David Hoedeman