Northwestern commits to bird-friendly buildings

Northwestern commits to bird-friendly buildings

Cheers to Northwestern University for using state-of-the-art solutions to keep birds from dying in collisions with glass walls and windows, including applying patterned window film to problematic existing windows and choosing glass with patterns visible to birds in some new construction projects.

The university’s location on the shore of Lake Michigan makes this work especially important. Millions of migrating birds pass along the lakeshore and through the greater Chicago area every spring and fall. Northwestern’s campus sits squarely in the corridor “where birds want to move and rest during their migration,” said Annette Prince, director of Chicago Bird Collision Monitors in a press release. “Obstacles are being put in their path that wouldn’t have existed before.” 

Prince’s group picks up about 5,000 birds a year injured or killed by collisions in one square mile of downtown Chicago alone. The birds they find span 170 species, from wood thrush and many species of warbler to larger birds like bitterns. “The things we find sometimes are astounding,” Prince said. “We got a painted bunting one year. Even waterfowl can be impacted.”

The measures put Northwestern, which worked with the American Bird Conservancy, in the vanguard of a growing movement among U.S. colleges and universities to implement practical, effective, and cost-efficient strategies to reduce bird strikes, which kill up to 1 billion birds a year in the U.S. alone.

Unlike humans, birds do not understand the concept of glass as a transparent barrier. They take glass reflections as open landscapes and, thinking they have a clear path, crash into a solid surface instead.

“We’re taking an active, multi-tiered approach to bird collisions, looking at new construction, existing structures and at the daily building-management level,” said Bonnie L. Humphrey, director of design in Northwestern’s Facilities Division.