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Crowdfunding campaign to support undergraduate research aimed at reducing bird-window collisions

October 24, 2017

cnre-rubythroatedhummingbird
The ruby-throated hummingbird is particularly vulnerable to collisions with windows on its long migration from breeding grounds in Virginia to tropical wintering habitats. Photo by Bob Schamerhorn.

Virginia Tech researchers hope to raise $5,000 during a crowdfunding campaign to support their quest to save birds from window strikes while increasing field research opportunities for undergraduate students.

Birds face numerous natural and human-made threats, especially during migration. A 2014 national study provided quantitative data showing that window collisions kill nearly 1 billion birds per year.

“While window collisions are a major threat to wild bird populations, the good news is that we can do something about it,” said Ashley Peele, a research associate with the Conservation Management Institute and project advisor. “We have the opportunity to actually effect some change. We’d like to go about this by working with student researchers, providing them an undergraduate research experience that complements their academic work.”

Scott Klopfer, director of the Conservation Management Institute, based in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, said, “Our objective is to gather information on why, where, and when birds collide with windows and use it to develop practical, effective solutions applicable at Virginia Tech and beyond. The experience also will equip students with the skills they need for success after college as young professionals.”

Students participating in the study will work alongside Conservation Management Institute professionals to monitor bird-window collisions in business and residential settings. Understanding such factors as facing exposure of windows, angle of the sun, time of day, presence of artificial lighting, and proximity of food sources and predators is needed to develop protective measures, Klopfer said.

The $5,000 goal will support undergraduate researchers, who will develop research proposals and plans, organize volunteers, manage data collection, complete analysis, and present research findings. Follow-up projects will test methods for reducing the rate of bird-window collisions.

“For me, I think that I would not have gotten the experience I needed without undergraduate research,” said Marissa Hahn, of Holden Beach, North Carolina, a senior majoring in environmental resources management. “It’s going through the triumphs and the challenges of real research projects that you can’t get in that classroom experience, and it makes you feel like you are making a difference, especially with a project like this.”

The bird-window study also includes a reporting mechanism for the community at-large. Members of the public are encouraged to submit their own observations via the “Report a Collision” link on the project webpage. Such information as date, address, species (if known), and side of building is requested.

“We will use this information to look at collision patterns at larger scales,” Klopfer said.

A total of 242 bird fatalities representing 56 species was recorded during a 2013-14 study on bird-window strikes conducted at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. While most wild bird species are prone to window strikes, the ruby-throated hummingbird was at the top of this list, with 24 deaths. The American robin (21), gray catbird (15), and mourning dove (14) followed. The dark-eyed junco and white-throated sparrow had nine deaths each.

The study also identified the worst of the corporate center’s 21 buildings for bird collisions and narrowed attention to the most fatal exposures of each of six high-strike structures.

“Windows on the forested sides of a building are often deadly when lighting results in the prominent reflection of surrounding wildlife habitat,” Klopfer said.

The challenge is convincing building owners and others to implement proven techniques to prevent bird-window collisions, he added.

A Senate bill directing General Services Administration to incorporate bird-safe building materials and design features into federal buildings was introduced Oct. 4. Like those in the recent past, the bill was referred to committee.

The Conservation Management Institute bird-window crowdfunding campaign will run through Nov. 11. Supporters can contribute a gift of any amount and help to promote the program on Facebook and Twitter.

Window deterrents
Windows decorated with string, lights, or other ornaments are more visible to birds and less likely to be flown into.

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