When officials of the Omaha Public Power District were informed that bird strikes were occurring at their corporate headquarters in downtown Omaha, they began to research solutions to address the problem.
In the autumn of 2008, "we learned through the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service that Energy Plaza, O.P.P.D.’s corporate headquarters at 17th and Harney, was a location where a number of bird strikes had been reported," said Alison Rider, Division Manager Facilities Management. "At the time, we weren’t aware of any problems with our building, but once we found out, we began looking for ways to resolve the issue. It was a new issue for us.
"The reason our building may have been attracting strikes is due to the highly reflective windows on the ground level which are adjacent to potted trees. Apparently, the birds see the foliage reflected in the glass and they can’t discern that it’s a solid window, not a tree, so they fly into it."
Nineteen different species have been casualties of 27 known bird strikes at this building, with 13 in 2008, and 14 through the end of October, 2009.
"We looked for other companies with a similar situation which had found a solution," Rider said. "But we couldn’t find any close by, so we made some contacts nationally and did some research. Eventually, we found a product called CollidEscape, manufactured by Large Format Digital, in Edgerton, Wisconsin. It is a non-shiny film that is applied to the outside of the windows, much like the wrapped advertising seen on buses."
This film can be purchased in several different colors, which helps match it to the tint of the windows, making it less visible and unobtrusive in relation to the building's architecture.
"There were probably similar products, but it was the only one we were able to find where the company had experience and apparent success," Rider said. "We were also looking for something which had a reasonable cost and which would not detract from the building’s appearance, and CollidEscape met those criteria.
"Because O.P.P.D.’s primary strike problem was along the northwest corner of our building, this is where our efforts were concentrated," Rider said. "Large Format Digital contracted with a firm in Lincoln, Nebraska, to do the installation. The temperature has to be above 50 degrees, so we had to wait until spring-time to have it installed. The material is applied to the exterior of the window with a 1/4 inch overlap at the seams. It is somewhat noticeable when you’re close, but from even a short distance away you, really don’t see it.
"The material costs, including installation, is $7.33 per square foot for one color, and more if you have it printed with photos or advertising. In all, we spent about $8,500 for the material and installation," Rider said.
There has been a noticeable decrease in bird-strikes where the window covering was installed. Where several strikes had occurred in 2008, there were only 2-3 in 2009, according to documented instances.
"Aside from our corporate responsibility to follow regulations, O.P.P.D. cares about the environment and we do want to be a good corporate neighbor. If there are reasonable ways we can be more bird-friendly, we want to find out what they are and consider them," Rider said. "Naturally, O.P.P.D. wants to ensure that we meet state and federal requirements, and there are several laws that pertain to bird protection."
"It’s our responsibility to do the right thing, and we want to do the right thing. But we do have to balance what we can do with other important considerations, such as cost and the aesthetics of the facility. We have learned some helpful things don’t cost anything at all, such as moving interior plants away from windows and, wherever possible, making sure the lights are turned off in the building overnight."
Where a few additional strikes have occurred on the north side of the building, "we have obtained a quote to extend CollidEscape to additional windows," and will consider doing that once conditions are suitable in 2010, Rider said.
The most recent strikes - about half of those in 2009 - have occurred on the east side of the Energy Plaza, along the main entry area where an expanse of glass and interior lighting create hazardous conditions for migratory birds.
"We plan to continue monitoring the number and location of strikes to see if we have other problem areas that can be addressed," Rider said. "Then we will make a decision about going ahead with additional applications" of window coverings or other steps to continue to reduce the number of bird strikes.
O.P.P.D. realizes that they can never achieve a "100%" reduction in bird strikes, but is none-the-less committed to undertaking reasonable steps to minimize any further occurrences.
Officials with Union Pacific have recently been in contact, and maintenance staff from the Union Pacific Center "are going to take a look at the CollidEscape on our building," Rider said. She has also heard from the City of Omaha, which has bird strikes occurring at the Omaha-Douglas Civic Center, just a half block from Energy Plaza.
The Omaha Public Power District is the first company in Omaha to undertake an extensive, focused effort to reduce the hazards that cause bird strikes at their building. The Nebraska Medical Center undertook efforts to address window strikes by Purple Martins in the autumn of 2008 by placing banners behind the glass of a walkway. This was helpful, but was a no-cost effort. In August 2009, they installed some purchased decals on the skywalk glass to address the hazardous conditions for the martins gathered at their midtown roost.