Fish & Wildlife looks to reduce deadly bird impacts at Hadley office building  

  • Joe Ambo, an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, installs coverings on the windows that help prevent birds from flying into them, Tuesday, at the service’s building in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees Michael Steward, left, and Allen Peake install coverings over the windows that help prevent birds from flying into them at the Fish and Wildlife building in Hadley, Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Allen Peake and Michael Steward, employees of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, install coverings over the windows that help prevent birds from flying into them at the Fish and Wild building in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/12/2022 8:00:46 PM

HADLEY — The federal agency tasked with protecting birds and other wildlife is migrating toward using more bird-friendly materials at its office buildings, starting with its northeast regional office in Hadley.

This week, maintenance crews from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are retrofitting visual markers to the 8,000-square-feet of glass on the Hadley office building that are designed specifically to help birds differentiate between glass and open space. By installing the visual markers, the agency hopes to prevent birds from crashing into windows, which is a major contributor to the decline of North America’s bird population, said Pam Toschik, who directs the agency’s migratory bird program in the Northeast.

“Since 1970, more than one in four birds — nearly 3 billion birds — have been lost in North America. Although there are numerous causes of this decline like habitat loss, invasive species and predation from cats, collisions are a major contributor,” said Toschik.

Reducing bird collisions is a part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s partnership on the Three Billion Birds initiative, which is a concentrated effort to conserve and restore healthy bird populations across the hemisphere. Other partners include the American Bird Conservatory, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

Why do birds fly into windows?

Glass windows are dangerous to birds because they reflect the environment around them like the forest, clouds or the sky, said Toschik. Because birds are unable to distinguish the difference between the reflective surface and open space, they assume the reflection is open space and fly directly into the glass.

Tall glass skyscrapers are responsible for some of the bird fatalities, but more often than not, bird impacts occur less than 20 feet from ground level at homes and low-rise buildings, she said.

Once they hit the window, birds may be temporarily stunned and survive a non-lethal injury. However, in many instances, birds are killed immediately and never fly away, she said.

“While they may be able to fly temporarily, birds with even moderate injuries are much more vulnerable to predators and other environmental dangers,” Toschik said.

Staff from the Hadley office collected data on the number of birds that were flying into the building and found that there were 30 different kinds, including some rare species in the area. Toschik cited the yellow-billed cuckoo and black-billed cuckoo as two particular species that have been affected.

Feather friendly

To better advocate for bird-friendly initiatives, Toschik said it was important to start at home. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leases its northeast regional office in Hadley from William Keavany of Pearson Properties, and was able to negotiate installing a product that Toschik said would remain aesthetically pleasing while having a big impact on reducing the deadly bird hits on the building.

Out of the more than 100 bird-impact prevention products on the market, the federal agency selected Feather Friendly, a company headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. The company has also installed its product at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Coloradp.

The product features a pattern of markings spaced 2 inches apart and applied to the exterior of windows that breaks up and reduces surface reflections for birds while maintaining a low visual impact on people, according to Allen Peake, logistics management specialist at the agency.

The service went through a hands-on training program to perfect the work, applying visual markers to the front-facing windows of the 500-square-foot Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md., said Peake.

With teams from the federal agency installing the product, Peake said there were significant savings for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Hadley project costs roughly $60,000, according to Peake.

The Hadley office is one of 4,000 buildings the agency oversees nationally that will be undergoing assessment to see if further retrofitting is necessary to become bird-friendly. Currently, the agency is halfway through assessing which of those buildings are of the highest risk to deadly bird crashes.

In addition to the markers, the front entrance to the building also features decals in the shape of bird silhouettes created by visual artist Maggie Nowinski, who has a studio in the Paragon Arts and Industry Building in Easthampton. Although the project veers from her overarching visual language, Nowinski said there is a formal and conceptual connection to her own work as well.

“The project provided an opportunity for me to research various regional birds and flora and reduce the images to shapes to create an overall pattern,” she said in an emailed statement. “The USFWS seeks to protect these living birds, fish and ecosystems and I wanted to infuse the design with a sense of vitality, movement and interconnectedness. There is significant variation and also repetition within each panel design. I was hoping to visually convey a kind of symmetry and wildness simultaneously.”

The work was projected by Peake to take approximately two weeks to finish and slated to be completed later this week.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethur low@gazettenet.com.
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