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Why do birds keep flying into Duke's glass buildings?

<p>Chronicle File Photo</p>

Chronicle File Photo

Junior Ceren Ebrem was studying in the Student Wellness Center when she heard a loud thump. She looked up and saw something fall to the ground through the building’s large glass windows.

“There was a bird on the ground. It moved for a couple of seconds and then it was motionless,” said Ebrem, who walked outside to look at the bird. “[It] was dead.” 

Ebrem’s story isn’t unique. Posts have popped up on the Fix My Campus Facebook page about the issue, sometimes featuring photos of the dead birds. The issue has come up again three years after the Bird Window Collision Project, which tracks collisions on campus, showed that Duke’s bird safety was one of the worst in the United States.

Why Duke?

Duke naturally attracts birds because it’s surrounded by heavy woods and within the Atlantic Flyway, a major bird migration path, according to Nicholas School lecturer Nicolette Cagle, who helps lead the project. 

“The University is a good habitat, except for when the birds come down and hit the windows," she said.

There are a lot of birds on campus. There’s also a lot of glass. 

“When they see glass, they either see a reflection of habitat—so they see a tree being reflected and say ‘Oh, I’m gonna go fly into a tree,’ or they think they can just fly right through," Cagle said.

Methods of preventing collisions exist. Patterned film that can be applied to glass and UV reflective glass alerts birds to glass’s presence, Cagle explained. Patterned film was applied to glass in the CIEMAS building in 2015, leading to a significant reduction in bird collisions after the building accounted for 85 out of 118 bird deaths in surveys by the team. 

Despite the issues for birds, Cagle pointed out that glass facades make people feel better, reduce energy waste and are important in getting LEED certified for sustainability—as more than 40 buildings on Duke’s campus are.

“But we can have those benefits without killing birds,” Cagle said.

How about new buildings?

Cagle estimated in an interview with The Chronicle that the number of birds killed on campus each year is in the thousands. The project focuses on just more than a handful of buildings on campus. In nine week periods, it usually finds around 100 birds, Cagle said. 

The project still tracks the same buildings it studied when it first uncovered Duke’s high bird window collision rates. Since then, the Brodhead Center, the Student Wellness Center and the Rubenstein Arts Center—all of which feature large glass facades—have been added to campus. 

Although bird window collisions are down at CIEMAS, Cagle said, reports of collisions for buildings not yet tracked by the Bird Window Collision Project—such as the Brodhead Center—have been reported.

Tavey McDaniel Capps, Duke's sustainability director, said the University’s Architectural Design Guidelines—published in 2017—indicate that “recent research on making glass areas safer for birds should be employed” in construction.

Cagle added that she isn’t sure if the many new glass buildings on campus have bird-safe glass or not. An architect consulted her team after the graduate student council passed a resolution in 2015 calling for Duke to consider bird safety in future construction, but her team hasn’t been involved since, she said.

Cagle said her team plans on updating their study’s routes to capture collisions taking place at these new buildings, and she named the Brodhead Center as a potential hotspot for Duke’s bird collisions. 

“Students are emailing me like ‘This is terrible, I’m walking up for lunch and there are dead birds up here,’” Cagle said. 


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