28 September 2009

Law College Actively Addresses Bird Strike Problem

Lewis and Clark Law School is actively involved in addressing problems with bird strikes on campus through a unique program of awareness and action.

With people on the campus at Portland Oregon witnessing bird strikes at buildings, the project at the university was started in autumn 2005 by a member of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, who "noticed bird strikes on the Lewis and Clark buildings which face out into Tryon Creek State Park," said Brett Hartl, a student at the school. "The person began discussions with David Kelley, Assistant Dean of Administrative Affairs, about finding solutions and recording more data about the extent of the problem.

"As the leading environmental law school in the country and home of the National Center for Animal Law we are concerned about the issue of birds flying into the windows of our buildings," Kelley said. "We want to explore all options to find the best possible way to reduce the number of bird strikes. Documenting where the birds are hitting the windows is the first step and I would encourage all students, faculty and staff to report it any time they witness an event like this."

Members of the SALDF worked closely with Dean Kelley to determine the scope of the problem.

"For the first two years, SALDF put up signs asking people to report bird strikes," Hartl said. "Therefore the information on where birds were hitting windows was completely anecdotal."

The "SALDF was the primary group active in this effort, with myself being primarily in charge these last two years," Hartl explained.

"When I arrived at the law school, I looked at the data and began doing systematic daily surveys. The surveys generally confirmed the anecdotal evidence that the Legal Research Center was the largest source of bird mortalities on the law school campus. This was partly due to design of the building, as well as overall surface area of unbroken glass on the buildings' walls. The other factor is the amount of glass facing out into the park (as opposed to building glass that faces in other directions – into other suburban areas)."

Views of the setting of the Legal Research Center at Lewis and Clark Law School. Pictures courtesy of Brett Hartl.

The school is involved in modifying the buildings to make them bird-safe as it "is one of the top schools in Environmental and Animal Law, our neighbor is a State Park, and we are a significant source of mortality for wild birds in the park," Hartl explained. "Furthermore, it is an easy problem to fix and it is the right thing to do."

The school paid for the screening to make the glass of the building visible to birds, Hartl said.

"The school experimented with two methods of screening," Hartl explained. "The first is a decal screen that is attached directly to the windows and covers the entire window surface. This is similar to the material used on some public buses that allow passengers to see out, but allows the bus to be decorated with advertisements or other art on the outside. The second method was to retrofit some windows with screening similar to what people use in residential buildings for windows that open to keep bugs out. The advantage of this method is that the there is a gap between the screen and the glass which acts as a cushion in case a bird still flies into the window. Both methods reduce the reflectivity of the glass windows, which is the main reason that birds fly into glass.

"The data we have collected continues to show that screening dramatically reduces bird strikes on windows - by approximately 95%. To date, there have been no reports of the windows with mesh screening having bird strikes and all of my observations confirm this. There was one bird strike that occurred on a window with decals. So this mitigation measure is slightly less effective. If the school completely retrofits the Legal Research Center with screens, I would estimate that this would eliminate about 100-150 bird kills per year. Exact numbers are hard to get since bird carcasses disappear quickly into the forest. There is also some variability depending on migration conditions. In the last few weeks, a large number of Swainson's Thrush arrived in Tryon Creek State Park resulting in 14 bird mortalities. In this two week period, more birds were killed than all of last fall. So this year could have substantially higher bird mortality numbers."

Views of the glass at the Legal Research Center, showing the differences due to different window treatment options.

"These photos show the building in general plus the areas which have been screened" with CollidEscape window film, Hartl said. "It is hard to get photos that capture the big picture since the building does face out into the forest, so everything is obscured a bit. However, these three pictures illustrate the dramatic reduction in reflectivity."
The first picture "in particular shows the two types of screening we choose. The first two columns immediately to the left of the unscreened windows use the adhesive decals that attach directly to the windows. The third column over shows the windows with mesh screening on them. They are darker than the decals, but still reduce reflectivity dramatically."

"Each window retrofit costs about $600 dollars (the windows are about 5 feet by 10 feet) and there are about 120 windows that still need to be addressed," Hartl said. "The school is committed to providing the capital to address this, but we will have to see when it will get funded. We will have it in the capital planning budget by the end of the year and hopefully have the screens installed within the next few years.

"With the bad economy, there is a question about how to fund screening the rest of the buildings. I hope to resolve this by the end of the fall semester."

"We still get reports" of bird strikes "occasionally from folks around campus which I do follow up on, but it is no longer the main way of getting information."

To make it easy to report any bird strikes, a form is provided by the SALDF on the school's website.

Recently, Hartl has "folded this project into a larger effort, which I am also part of, to green the Law School campus holistically."

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