Andrea Imperato was lucky enough to rent a home in North Berwick that sits next to 60 acres of open hay fields with an abundance of wildlife. Then the danger to birds became clear.
The expansive view led birds to the windows, where bluebirds pecked or scratched the reflection. In June, Imperato found a dead eastern bluebird on the ground next to a window. She called the Center for Wildlife and was referred to the Maine Audubon BirdSafe team, where she learned how often birds die from window blows. The experience, she said, was horrific.
“At the door leading to the garden, there is a large glass panel,” Imperato said. “What struck me last year was that especially the bluebirds came up to the window and saw their reflection and scratched at it. I would see a little bird pecking at itself. There would be little traces of blood all over it. It was a little boy trying his offspring The one who fell was by one of the windshields. It must have bumped itself and fell.”
Bird strikes on windows cause an estimated 365 million bird fatalities each year, making it a leading cause of bird deaths, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The reflection of skies or trees on the windows is the main cause of bird strikes. Maine Audubon has been monitoring window bird strikes in recent years and has asked the public to email photos of bird strikes to [email protected]
Only a handful of buildings in Maine have bird-proof glass, but proponents hope each new example of such buildings will help raise awareness. Recently, LL Bean and two colleges made the choice to make windows safer for birds.
This summer, LL Bean added an outside window treatment from Quebec-based Feather Friendly that puts sheets of dots on the outside of the windows, a method that helps break up the reflection. Even simple window screens can warn birds of the barrier. But the glass used in most buildings reflects the horizon, leading birds to mistake unscreened windows for a flight path in the distance.
Construction on LL Bean’s new headquarters began in 2019, and the company considered adding bird-safe technology from the get-go, said Jason Sulham, LL Bean’s public affairs manager. This summer, the polka-dot adhesive strips were added for just over $60,000, Sulham said.
“With insight from Maine Audubon, the American Bird Conservancy and Portland Society for Architecture, we chose a post-construction point or frit application that was based on effectiveness,” Sulham said. “We recognized that seeing bird strikes would be an unpleasant and even traumatic experience for employees, especially in a workplace that values conservation. The health and well-being of our employees was therefore an important factor in our desire to use bird-safe technology.”
Saddleback Ski Area in Rangeley builds a lodge in the middle of the mountains with a bird-friendly design. The low-lying building will serve as a resting place with a restaurant halfway up the mountain. WInternal screens have been incorporated into the design that can be removed in winter when birds do not migrate.
At the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, the $10 million, 30,000-square-foot Davis Center for Human Ecology was built last year with triple-glazing from Germany that is nearly imperceptible to humans but obvious to birds. The special glass added an additional $97,000, said Darron Collins, the college president.
Collins said cost savings were needed to stay within budget, but the college eliminated a stairwell and other features rather than giving up the bird-proof glass. A campus-wide plan drawn up seven years ago dictates that all new buildings on campus must use the special glass.
“I have given over 100 individual tours of the building. It’s one of the most exciting things they talk about,” Collins said. “The whole idea is taken from the orb-weaving spider. They use UV reflective silk in their webs so that birds don’t fly through the structure. It is a good example of biomimicry in construction. It just amazes people.”
Five years ago, the University of New England introduced one of the first buildings in Maine to feature bird-proof glass when the design of the new 60,000-square-foot student center was changed to add the protective glass at an additional cost of $200,000.
Residential buildings with bird-proof glass appear to be rare, according to the Portland Society of Architecture, as costs can be as much as 18 to 20 percent higher, according to experts.
“I’d say it’s not common, but mostly because people don’t know enough; assume options are too expensive; and assume that the applications may affect the aesthetics. Homeowners definitely apply stickers,” said Addy Smith-Reiman, director of the association.
The decals are offered online by companies such as Window Alert and Bird’s Eye View. Covering a single window costs about $8 to $12.
Maine Audubon, in partnership with the Portland Society for Architecture and the University of Southern Maine, launched the BirdSafe Maine program to inspire more bird-safe buildings. Over the past two years, Maine Audubon has conducted a survey of Portland’s Old Port during the spring and fall migrations to determine how many bird strikes are occurring in the city, which lies along a major migratory route.
The data shows there were more dead birds in the early mornings around buildings with a higher percentage of glass, said Nick Lund, director of the BirdSafe program at Maine Audubon.
Based on the data from the study, Lund estimated that approximately 40,000 birds crash into windows in Portland each year.
“This is part of a large, growing understanding of bird strikes across the country,” Lund said. “What we found in Portland matches what we expected. But it took longer for the problem to make its way into the build and design process. It is not a matter taught in architecture schools. This is an emerging problem.”
To encourage more bird-proof buildings, Maine Audubon has begun adding several types of bird-proof windows or window coverings to the Gilsland Farm headquarters to provide a place for people to come and check out the options. The nonprofit shows the use of Feather Friendly dotted stickers, two other types of ultraviolet strips on windows, and even paintings on windows made by summer campers.
“When Gilsland Farm was built in the 1970s, (minimizing bird strikes on windows) was not a widely accepted problem. The headquarters was an advanced green technology. But this wasn’t on the list,” Lund said.
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