CUE glass culprit in migration deaths

Thousands of birds die every year due to glass-clad buildings in Toronto. Courtesy

Matt Lopes
Senior Biz/Tech Reporter

Humber’s Centre for Urban Ecology was built as a headquarters for the preservation of the surrounding wildlife, but since its construction the building has been a cause of many bird deaths that occur most frequently during the fall migration season.

The building was designed as a glass structure for sustainability purposes, but because of the building’s location many birds have been flying into the glass and dying as a result of the impact.

Michael Mesure is the founder of FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program) which is an organization dedicated to protecting birds from window collisions. Mesure said he has visited the CUE several times.

“The problem is that it’s essentially a glass block in the middle of the woods,” he said.

Mesure said that window strikes occur because to a bird the reflection of the horizon off the glass tells them that there is nothing in the way.

Mesure said the best solution to fixing the problem is to install decorative decals on the windows which let the birds know that there is an obstruction in the way.

Arboretum director Melanie Sifton admits this is a problem and is currently working on a solution.

“I can’t hide that, this is migration season for birds, we’re in an important bird fly-away zone and it’s not right that we’re killing birds with our building,” she said.

Sifton said she has looked into several solutions such as the decals and a large netting that could cover the problem area during migration season and be taken down afterwards, but like any addition to a campus building, the hold-up comes from funding.

Ryan Huling, spokesperson from PETA, said “this is a problem we receive calls about all the time, we advise that people install the discrete decals.”

Although Huling, who lives in the U.S., has never actually seen the CUE he said “it’s commendable that the college is trying to be sustainable especially since they have moved into a natural landscape with an unnatural structure, but if this is a problem for them they should act quickly.”

Mesure said that as of February 2010, legislation has been passed in the city of Toronto to help remedy the problem.

“Under green building standards all windows above three stories must have bird-safe markings as a requirement,” said Mesure. “The problem is that this rule only applies to buildings constructed after the legislation was passed, meanwhile the bulk of bird deaths are going to take place in existing structures.”

While the February legigislation is good for the cause, Mesure said he would like to see the same set of standards for existing buildings as well.

“While we wait for the city to introduce legislation for existing buildings, this has climbed to become the number one cause of bird deaths,” he said.

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