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Supporting Efforts to Reduce Bird/Building Collisions

Each year, an alarming number of birds perish while migrating across North America. A Canadian non-profit organization called FLAP is working to change this. Find out why birds collide with buildings, what FLAP is doing to stop it and how Esri Canada is pitching in to help.

If someone asked me to imagine what a migrating bird looks like, I might think of something like this (being the recovering romantic that I am).

Photo by Nevit Dilmen.

Sadly, I’m learning that too many migrating birds passing through cities, especially the one I live in, end up looking like this.

Photo courtesy of FLAP.

According to estimates from scientists, at least 100 million birds die each year in North America while migrating as a result of collisions with windows on buildings. To put that number into a human perspective, that’s the combined populations of Canada and the UK dying annually. It’s a very unfortunate statistic that has worried bird researchers and conservationists for years.

I became aware of this problem because of Esri Canada’s involvement with a non-profit organization called FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program), which works to help safeguard migratory birds from window collisions. Esri Canada’s corporate headquarters is housed in a nine-story glass office building in Toronto, a city that’s located along several major migratory paths. Toronto’s location, coupled with its large number of glass office buildings, means an alarming number of bird/building collisions occur in Canada’s biggest city. By aligning with FLAP, Esri Canada is playing a small part in a growing global movement to help change this.

FLAP’s efforts are focused on promoting awareness and reducing bird injuries and fatalities through education, policy development, research, rescue and rehabilitation. In 2009, FLAP’s conservation efforts were credited for influencing the landmark decision by Toronto City Council to mandate bird-friendly buildings. But the organization is perhaps best known for the tireless work of its volunteers, who patrol areas around buildings to rescue injured or dead birds as documented in this video.

A YouTube video profiling the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) in Toronto. Running time 4:46.

If you watched this video or you’re just learning about this problem like me, you might be asking yourself, why are so many birds hitting buildings anyway? Scientists tell us that birds migrating at night are attracted to bright lights left on in places such as downtown office towers. By day, migrating birds often confuse the reflective glass surfaces of buildings for trees or the sky. In both cases, birds do not perceive buildings as dangerous obstacles in their flight path. The picture below illustrates just how easy it is for birds to do this.

Image courtesy of FLAP.

An important step towards affecting change is helping scientists, policymakers and businesses achieve a better understanding of the scope of this environmental issue. Esri Canada is helping FLAP to achieve this through an in-kind software and development donation. Last year, Cameron Plouffe, an analyst and developer in the Education and Research group based in our Toronto office, was assigned to work with FLAP to develop a Web app called the FLAP Mapper for the organization’s “Citizen Science Project”, which seeks to gather data on bird-window collisions. Using the FLAP Mapper, people around the world are encouraged to report bird-window collisions by visiting an online map, selecting the location of a collision and recording information such as the date of a finding or a bird’s species. Contributors may also provide photos and additional notes.

The FLAP Mapper, a Web app for reporting and viewing the locations of bird collisions with buildings.

By recording this information on a GIS-based map, FLAP is building a global bird/building collision database, which currently contains more than 4,300 total records (a combination of FLAP Mapper recordings and those captured before the system was implemented). FLAP can in turn share this data with scientists, policymakers, businesses and the public to help improve policies, laws and building technology that are safer for birds.

In addition to the time required to develop the FLAP Mapper app and making a server available to host it, a handful of Esri Canada employees volunteer as FLAP patrollers, walking the exterior of our Toronto office during migratory season to rescue injured birds and gather and record others that have died. Employees working in our Toronto office are also engaged in the effort by closing their blinds in the evening (especially during migratory season) to reduce window light at night.

Esri Canada volunteer FLAP patrollers. Top row (from left) - Kathy Warner, Jacqueline Netoff, Jasmin Brinovcar, Hayleigh Conway, Lindsay Short, Natallia Smartsava. Bottom row (from left) - Kim Vesterberg, Mohamed Safi, Courtney Baldo. Absent - Mary Ardelyn Nabong.

You can learn more about FLAP, get involved or find practical advice, such as how to make your office or home safe from birds, by visiting the organization’s Web site.