23 March 2009

Visitor Centers Being Designed to be Bird-Friendly

Sherburne NWR visitor center.

Visitor centers at nature refuges are being designed and built in a manner to ensure they are bird-friendly and that deadly window strikes do not occur.

This initiative started 5-10 years ago for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, while the agency was "developing standard design features for visitor centers to reduce up front-costs and to provide a similar look to centers across the different refuges," said Kevin Kilcullen, a spokesman for the agency.

The agency wanted to make sure that buildings were attractive places for visitors but did not pose a threat to migratory birds.

"We think we met these objectives," Kilcullen said, "but continued to evaluate methods that would remove any threats to birds. "Two-three years ago when we started a new initiative to make wildlife refuges more bird-friendly to attract birders, we included additional efforts to minimize bird strikes."

The agency now actively works to have bird-friendly structures when new centers are designed and constructed. Steps taken recently at different refuges include:

  • The team developing a design for a new center at Sherburne NWR, in MN, is aware of the potential for bird strikes and will include designs to avoid or minimize any chance of occurrence.
  • The recently completed center at Tualatin River NWR is being monitored to ensure that if any strikes do occur, steps can be taken to rectify the situation.
  • The new center at Ottawa NWR on the southern edge Lake Erie – a known "hotspot" for bird migration - is being closely monitored to make certain that there are no bird strikes at the structure.
  • At Blackwater NWR, where the observation tower has a large area of glass to allow easy viewing of birds on the nearby Chesapeake marshlands. If bird strikes would be noted, refuge staff would then take measures to rectify the situation, Kilcullen said.

Kodiak NWR visitor center.

Tualatin River NWR visitor center.

In 2008, the American Bird Conservancy and US Fish and Wildlife Service staff held a meeting at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) to discuss this topic.

Various methods to reduce bird strikes against windows and outreach efforts were discussed, according to Karin Christensen, of the F.W.S. "NCTC has installed CollidEscape filming on the exterior of target windows, which reduced bird strikes by 100%. The American Bird Conservancy is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification points for builders that take into consideration bird strikes."

At Encinitas, California, the new nature center at San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve is also being monitored.

The "operations staff has considered the potential threat of the glass windows in the building for passing wildlife," said Cailin Hunsaker, the district park manager. "They have decals ready to place if they notice this problem, and we would continue to address it until we find a permanent solution."

"It is a challenge is to allow bird watching through large windows, while making sure there are no bird strikes" said Kilcullen. "It is a fine line between bird protection and making them more accessible for viewing."

The New York Audubon Society recently issued a 55-page manual on "Bird-Safe Building Guidelines, for architects, landscape designers, engineers, glass technicians, developers, building managers, city, state, and federal officials, and the general public." The report includes ways to retrofit buildings which are known to pose a threat and cause deadly bird strikes.

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