02 October 2009

Omaha Park Service Employees Strive to Reduce Bird-Strikes

Carl T. Curtis National Park Service Midwest Regional Headquarters. Though not shown, the Missouri River channel is in the foreground. The view is looking towards the southwest, showing the Omaha downtown in the background. Picture taken September 23, 2009.

In 2004, the National Park Service moved into the Carl T. Curtis National Park Service Midwest Regional Headquarters on the Omaha riverfront, leasing the facility that was certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as being "green" and conveying the structure as being environmentally responsible.

Employees, however, soon began to notice birds were striking the glass walls which comprise the exterior of the building, which had received a gold LEED certification.

Various birds struck the exterior and carcasses could be seen on some mornings, as the facility was along the Missouri River, an urbanized locale along a major flyway for migratory birds.

Following an informal effort, and "driven by employee interest," a committee of National Park Service staff was formed to look into the matter, according to Chris Holbeck, the natural resource program manager for the Midwest Region of the National Park Service.

There has been a "floor boss" responsible for shutting off interior lights and to partially close blinds so that there was a visual barrier presented, Holbeck explained. Maintenance staff were asked to turn off lights in the evening as well.

The effort continued and during the past 2-3 years, if a strike was observed, it was recorded. In the morning, a staff person would go around the building and note any bird carcasses which might be found around the building. On the upper floor, there was also an attempt to discern any birds which may have struck the structure.

Results of this multi-year effort, indicate there are typically less than ten recorded bird strikes per year, Holbeck said. There may have been more instances than noted, because predatory species such as raccoon or mink may have taken advantage of the situation over night, to utilize a readily available food source.

Morning reflection on the north side of the National Park Service Midwest Regional Headquarters. July 5, 2008.

Comparisons were done to see if there were any differences when lights were off and shades closed, in comparison to when these two steps were not done. There was no apparent difference, Holbeck said. Perhaps attributable to the low number of detected strikes.

Species noted as fatalities during the period included the European starling and northern flicker - mostly associated with the bottom floor of the structure - with no information available on any other migratory species that have struck the glass exterior building perched on the west bank of the river, and which may be among the list of birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Despite the low number of instances, the employees of the National Park Service have - "a concern for wildlife and natural resources" - and were compelled to take what action they could to reduce the number of bird strikes.

Steps taken to reduce any occurrences were learned from the internet, and were options to effectively reduce the number of birds striking the building, which is leased from a local property management firm.

"We would like to learn more about how to reduce or eliminate bird strikes," Holbeck said.

Architectural Considerations

Architectural firms tour the structure due to its designation, but apparently without any notable attention being given to known aspects of bird-friendly construction. Public building tours are provided relative to the building's LEED rating, and logically focus on architectural and engineering concepts incorporated in this structure rather than on all concepts of "green" design and construction.

Architects "need to design a building that would have few bird strikes," Holbeck said. The Curtis Building the National Park Service "commissioned and had built has bird issues." Despite its status as a LEED Gold building, this designation conveys no value as being bird-friendly, Holbeck explained. The Curtis Building was 'built to suit' through the General Services Administration, not directly between the NPS and builder.

"We are continuing with an action plan," Holbeck said, and "want to know what can be effective and that we are doing the right thing. The NPS likes to be a leader in innovation" so we continue to evaluate different facets related to the ongoing occurrence of bird strikes, he said, including:

1) How big is the problem?
2) Carrying out an action plan to understand what is happening; and
3) What should be done now to address the situation?

One essential consideration is any option to retrofit the building, Holbeck said. Options include installing "fritted glass" to replace normal, reflective glass panes. Other potential options include window screens or other cost-effective measures suitable to the building architecture, and acceptable to its owner.

The Midwest Regional Office represents 56 parks in 13 states, Holbeck noted, and an interesting retrofit option might be to install 56 glass panels etched to represent the 56 parks. Besides reducing the potential for bird strikes, these could also visually inform people of the variety of National Park Service sites within the region.

"What is the trigger point to doing something like this?" Holbeck said. Questions of cost and the possibility of installing different glass are obvious considerations, especially since the building is being leased.

"We will continue doing what we are doing" to minimize bird strikes, Holbeck said.

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