Study: A DC rescue group documents a crystal clear problem for migratory birds

(Video courtesy of Abby Milberg)

A 10-year study by a DC group documented a critical trend in bird migration.

More migratory birds appear to be dying in collisions with glass buildings, according to a study by Lights Out DC and City Wildlife.

Over the years, volunteers with Lights Out DC, a program that is part of City Wildlife, have found and documented an increasing number of birds killed or injured outside buildings in DC

“We went from collecting 100 birds until last year we ended up collecting 500 birds,” said Anne Lewis, president of City Wildlife, which cares for injured animals.

The birds include all kinds of warblers – small, often colorful songbirds – to marsh birds – such as the sora rail, (think long-legged chicken) – and even the wood thrush, the official bird of DC

And DC is not alone. Other cities have seen similar problems.

In Philadelphia just five days ago, Lewis said, “They had a massive bird strike episode. They caught between 1,000 and 1,500 birds in just one morning.”

Only 16% of the injured birds found by Lights Out DC volunteers are doing well enough to be released after care.

The vast majority are collected and cataloged by volunteers, such as Lisbeth Fuisz, who coordinates the Lights Out DC program. Fuisz said it is a difficult but important task.

“It’s heartbreaking to see,” Fuisz said. “It’s particularly annoying to find them when they’re still warm,” knowing that just moments before, they had lived and had a chance to survive.

When a bird is found alive, Fuisz and her volunteers collect the bird in a paper bag to be taken to Urban Wildlife. She said putting a bird in a box can cause injuries if the birds panic. They can hit themselves against the rigid sides and top of the box. A paper bag provides a safer environment until the bird can take care of it.

“Sometimes it can take up to six to eight hours for a bird that is dismayed to be able to fully recover to fly,” Fuisz said.

She also said it is best to take the bird to a retrieval center if you can.

“You can’t always tell just by looking at a bird what kind of injury it has suffered. They often have trauma to their brain, or they could break something that is not easily visible, ”Fuisz said.

Efforts are being made to change construction projects to prevent the kind of bird strikes most commonly seen near buildings that have vast glass surfaces and internal atriums that can fool birds into thinking they have found free space.

“There’s one architectural firm that has really done a good job in this, and that’s Quinn-Evans,” Lewis said.

The company has designed the new bird house being built at the National Zoo, and it is designed to be a “purely bird safe building,” Lewis said.

Lewis also credits changes made at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where translucent strips are spaced across the glass, destroying the reflective surface. Lewis said bird collisions have stopped as a result.

Another building, whose glass structure and internally lit atrium attracted birds – often with fatal results – began to dim lights at night, reducing the number of bird strikes.

“After they dimmed the lights, there was a two-third reduction in the number of birds hitting the buildings,” Lewis said.

Fuisz said the ongoing efforts to document the loss of birds due to bird strikes are working – slowly.

“There’s a change, if you will,” with builders paying more attention to the issue. “And that’s very exciting,” Fuisz said.

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