City, province differ over bird strike prevention

When Jill Edwards leaves home in the mornings she’s not looking forward to what she knows she’s going to see.

While others still sleep, Edwards is making her pre-work patrol in lower Downtown around the Yonge corridor from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. looking for tragedies that don’t need to happen.

The Liberty Village resident is a volunteer with FLAP Canada, a Toronto-based charity that recovers dead and injured birds that have crashed into office windows during spring and fall migration and plunged—in some cases, many storeys—to the sidewalk.

Ones still breathing can end up as breakfast for foraging raccoons, gulls, squirrels and rats. Of those that don’t get eaten, and volunteers are happy to find, about 40% can be rehabilitated to fly again.

“It can be very difficult doing this type of work, as the needless deaths do make me feel sad and frustrated sometimes,” says Edwards. “The only thing that keeps us (volunteers) going is the hope we are able to assist live birds.

Edwards—as does FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program)—wants building owners to use patterned windows to prevent birds flying into them during the daytime and office lights turned off after-hours to stop the nighttime carnage.

In 2010, says FLAP, the city began requiring developers to make their new buildings bird-friendly to prevent bird-window strikes. FLAP notes Ontario has legislation in Section 14 of the Environmental Protection Act that could be used to force building owners to assist in this goal.

But to FLAP’s and environmentalists dismay Ontario’s environment ministry is proposing to exempt commercial building owners from that provision and simply ask them to “volunteer” to help stop, at the very least, daytime strikes.

“When we learned they were looking, instead, to have this be a voluntary approach rather than an enforcement approach this caused great concern for a number of people involved in bird conservation,” Michael Mesure, co-founder and executive director of FLAP Canada, said in an interview.

Mesure said that with 26 years experience and working with people involved in real estate development he has learned that a voluntary approach wouldn’t work. “They just don’t do anything about it. It requires a mandatory requirement,” he said.

It’s perhaps commonly known that migratory birds crash into office windows at night attracted by lights left on. What’s not so much understood is that glass windows, in bright sunlight, also lure birds to their deaths by reflecting what appears to be a safe landing spot.

“Birds see that reflection as the real thing and they will fly toward that reflection assuming they’re flying toward a tree, but instead it’s the tree they just left and they will fly into the glass,” explained Mesure.

He said daytime collisions “are far more lethal” than nighttime ones. FLAP wants to impress on the ministry and the general public there are “a select few (meaning tall buildings) that can kill a large number of birds in daytime and they need to take mitigating steps to deal with that problem.”

Mesure praised a Downtown tower at 33 Yonge St. at Front for using specially marked windows to prevent bird collisions. He noted George Brown College’s Waterfront Campus has anti bird-strike windows.

Windows incorporating a pattern of dots create a grid; the density of the dots is enough for birds to recognize there’s something between them and the reflection they’re trying to get to, and they steer clear. The pattern doesn’t obscure one’s ability to see through the glass, said Mesure.

With fall migration over Edwards now can get a couple of extra hours sleep before heading to work. But next year she’ll be out again in the early mornings trudging Downtown streets looking for more tiny tragedies—and hoping there’ll be some that can be saved to fly again.

“Once you do it, for me anyways, it’s difficult to stop when you know the problem exists.”

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