Thursday, 17 February 2011

Common Sense from Calgary City Council?

As someone who has been interested in birds and birding for a long time (check under "About Me" for more), I've been thinking about starting a blog for a while.  My intention was to launch with a summer NMT (non-motorized transport) blitz of the Calgary pathway system.  However, the issue of birds, buildings and window strikes has just come up here in a big way so there's no time like the present - I need to vent and perhaps even motivate some like-minded birders to action.

The image above is of course the New York "Tribute in Light" with hundreds of birds caught in the beams.  An extreme example of a common problem: birds dying when they fly into windows after becoming disoriented by the lights and reflective surfaces of urban landscapes.

Calgary's city planning commission has just recommended that council approve guidelines to make buildings safer for birds.  You can get a basic summary of the story courtesy of the CBC here.  However, some outdated and limited local research is being used to discredit this idea.  The gist of the anti-bird safety argument will be familiar to many of you: "I don't see dead birds therefore birds aren't dying".  Of course we don't see dead birds very often anywhere for several reasons, the relevant one here being that scavengers scoop up dead bodies very efficiently.  In fact gulls have been observed patrolling around buildings with high collision rates and scooping up dead or injured birds.

The second erroneous piece of information, which I have heard communicated both in the linked editorial and in the news, is the count of 137 bird deaths annually.  This comes from an old volunteer study - useful for highlighting the risk but presenting misleading information with regards to the real hazard presented to birds by large areas of reflective glass.  The real numbers are between 100 million and 1 billion bird fatalities from windows in North America annually or, in more understandable terms from a related study, 8-11 birds per building per year.  This is well researched and documented in a number of scientific studies including this one and this one.

Of course all of this information may be old news to birders reading this post and you'll be asking yourselves what you can do to advocate for Calgary's skyline getting caught up with the rest of the world.  A supportive councillor (we call them aldermen, for now!) is Druh Farrell, who can be reached through her website.  A skeptical councillor is Gord Lowe, who can be reached through his website.  You could also contact the mayor's office directly at

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