Hundreds of birds die from striking SOM windows, new data shows
As birds complete their biannual migration patterns, many find themselves running into an unexpected obstacle: the 130,000-square-foot glass walls of the School of Management’s Evans Hall.
Since SOM and the Peabody Museum of Natural History began collecting data on bird strikes in April 2018, a total of 262 birds of at least 47 species have been found stunned, injured or dead due to window strikes into Evans Hall. Bird deaths have been a problem at SOM since the building’s construction –– the News reported that an average of three birds per day struck Evans Hall in the Spring of 2014. While SOM invited bird strike expert Christine Sheppard from the American Bird Conservancy to evaluate the building and propose solutions in 2017, no permanent changes have been, to date, made to save the birds.
“Sometimes when I find [the birds] their beaks are broken, sometimes they’re stunned or twitching,” said Executive Director of the Law, Ethics and Animals Program at the Yale Law School Viveca Morris ’15 SOM ’18, who regularly scans SOM’s grounds for bird caracasses. “It’s really unfortunate on the level of population, but it’s really unfortunate for these animals individually who are suffering after having overcome incredible obstacles of migrating thousands of miles in some cases and overcoming all these other obstacles only to die by being squashed by this building unnecessarily. I think the birds deserve a better fate than that.”
Morris said that 262 is a “dramatic undercount” of the true number of birds that have crashed into Evans Hall. She explained that many birds that hit the building may fly off and die elsewhere, so they would not be found by the facilities crew, and that many birds may be thrown away by people or taken by scavengers before the facilities crew finds them. She estimates that between 2.3 and 5.0 birds are not found for each carcass that is found.
As such, Morris’ estimate indicates that between 602.6 and 1,310 birds have struck the Evans Hall windows since April 2018.
SOM Director of Facilities Planning Bob Saidi contested these numbers. He explained that the study that produced the 2.3 to 5.0 estimate is not applicable to Evans Hall, because it does not take into account geographical factors such as the presence of paved surfaces and the absence of many wild scavenger animals in New Haven. Instead, he referenced another study by researchers at the University of Alberta that puts the estimate at 1.5.
“Usually our custodial crew has someone on site at least 18 hours per day, so it is unlikely that scavengers will remove the carcass before a custodian does,” Saidi wrote in an email to the News. “We believe the figure of 1.5 from the [University of Alberta] study is more appropriate at Evans Hall.”
In response, Morris said that the multiplier is simply an estimate and that there is no scientific basis for definitively siding with the 1.5 figure. She added that the multiplier is not very significant because the “extraordinary number” of birds that were physically collected should be enough to warrant action. According to Morris, many of the birds that crashed into SOM were critically imperiled species, so the bird strikes are having population-level effects.
Regardless of confusion over the exact number of bird strikes, Morris told the News that these deaths are “completely preventable” and that there are effective, affordable and attractive solutions that could be implemented to stop the problem immediately.
“SOM is just a really egregious example,” said A. Z. Andis Arietta GRD ’21, who began to bring bird carcasses to the Peabody during his pandemic-inspired walks around New Haven. “Not only is it a full glass building, but it’s a glass building that you can see all the way through, which means it’s hard for birds to see that it’s not something they can fly through.”
Arietta said that possible solutions include adding an ultra violet coating or some sort of pattern to the glass to increase its visibility for birds. He also said that a physical barrier –– such as nets or screens –– would also dramatically decrease the number of bird strikes.
In November 2017, Morris arranged for Sheppard to visit SOM and present options for bird strike mitigation measures. Saidi said that, after this visit, the school decided to collect at least one full year of data to understand the extent of the problem and identify the areas of greatest concern before implementing a solution.
“In late 2019 [after obtaining a full year of data], we secured $10,000 for a pilot film test in the area with the most bird strikes, but in December, Ms. Morris advised that the pilot proposal was insufficient,” Saidi wrote in an email to the News.
Morris told the News that this proposed test area would not have been large enough to serve as a meaningful test of the window film’s effectiveness at deterring bird strikes –– because birds fly around the film-covered area and hit nearby areas of the building at higher rates –– and only would have tested how the film looks on the glass.
If SOM were to fully commit to the window film solution, Saidi estimated that the cost of bird protection film would be at least $560,000. He based this calculation on extrapolations from a 2017 energy conservation project that installed film on some Evans Hall windows. Sheppard told the News that this number seems to be a “reasonable” estimate.
“There are also some important qualifications that could affect this installation,” Saidi wrote in an email to the News. “We will need to check with Permasteelisa, the window manufacturer, to make sure that application of the selected film will not create any thermal effects that will damage the window assembly. Second, we will need to confirm that all of the glass areas can be reached by a lift.”
According to Saidi, SOM experimented with adding an ultra violet coating to the glass, but decided against this solution because the coating was visible to humans and would require frequent application.
Morris and Arietta both expressed that it is time for SOM to move from gathering data and discussing solutions to actually implementing one.
Still, Saidi told the News that the COVID-19 crisis has demanded an “overwhelming share” of SOM’s resources and that the school is currently focused on protecting the health and safety of its students, faculty and staff.
“The SOM building is training the leaders of the world, and it doesn’t send a very good message that we built this building, that is the worst possible building for birds, and then have this callous outlook on whether or not we want to make any changes,” Andis said. “The worst part is the kind of message this sends as a university.”
According to Morris and Sheppard, both Duke University and Northwestern University have similarly styled glass buildings which have been properly retrofitted to prevent bird strikes.
Saidi declined to comment on the degree to which buildings at other universities may be comparable to Evans Hall.
“Yale SOM has a deep concern for environmental safety and sustainability, as demonstrated by Evans Hall’s LEED Gold certification and our continuing engagement with student sustainability initiatives,” Saidi wrote in an email to the News. “We are dedicated to finding a practical solution to the problem of bird strikes … We have tried to identify a number of solutions, but so far none presents a proper balance between effectiveness and resource allocation.”
Evans Hall is located at 165 Whitney Avenue.
Julia Brown | firstname.lastname@example.org