FLAP recovers three species at risk from bird collisions

Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) just released a sobering news release about three federally listed species at risk that they have recovered from building collisions in Toronto. We’ve written about FLAP on our blog before, they’re an incredible group of volunteers committed to advocacy and rescue work surrounding bird collisions with buildings.

If you’re in Toronto’s financial district in the very early morning of spring or fall, you may spot someone scurrying along the sidewalk carrying paper bags and a butterfly net. That’s a FLAP volunteer, scanning the street for a stunned bird that they can rescue or a dead one they can lay to rest.

So far this spring, those volunteers have recovered a live Red-Headed Woodpecker, a dead Golden-winged Warbler and one live and six dead Wood Thrushes. All these birds are protected under the federal Species at Risk Act and we can’t afford to lose anymore of them.

Last year, we filmed with Keith Pardiek at the Breeding Bird Survey, a joint American-Canadian songbird population-monitoring program. While there, he shared some distressing statistics with us: since 1966 Wood Thrush populations have declined 62%, Red-Headed woodpecker 70% and Golden-winged Warbler 70%.

“These birds play a vital ecological role,” said Michael Mesure, Executive Director of FLAP, “There are many commercially available, aesthetically pleasing solutions that can help to reduce bird collisions with buildings. Urban structures can be made safe for birds.”

We have filmed with FLAP several times over the course of shooting our documentary. The footage is inspiring and we can’t wait to share it with you. The story isn’t all doom and gloom either; there are reasons to be hopeful. FLAP’s advocacy work has led to some especially deadly buildings to be treated with bird-friendly window decals.

The same day FLAP published this news release, The New York Times published a feature about a large-scale research collaboration with New York City Audubon, the American Bird Conservation and Fordham University focused on various types of glass and their ability to deter birds. The goal of the project is to help conservationists and ornithologists understand and prevent this needless carnage.

FLAP Canada is asking anyone who finds a bird that has collided with a building to report the incident on FLAP Mapper – a live web tool that they have developed. Users can easily report a collision on an interactive map, as well as view locations of others.


Scientist uses light study to prevent bird collisions

Last year we were with bird expert Bill Evans as he conducted one of his DIY experiments: beaming lights into the sky to test the impact of artificial light on night migrating birds.

Inside his home laboratory, Bill used weather radar to determine if the birds would be migrating across our rural New York location. That’s right – flocks of songbirds are large enough to appear on weather radar systems. “We still have a low cloud ceiling and maybe some light drizzle so the birds can’t see the stars they use for celestial navigation,” he said. “They’re going to have to rely on their internal compass or other cues that we’re not even aware of.”

The light rain is good for the study.  Water particles in the air refract light and lead birds to aggregate. Bird aggregation in cities however, is bad news. “The phenomena is of course what’s causing the tower kill phenomenon,” he said.

Toronto’s Fatal Light Awareness Project estimates that between 100 million and one billion birds die from collisions with buildings every year in North America. Bird collisions typically occur at night when birds are migrating and lights inside buildings are turned on. Bill is trying to understand the mechanism that induces light aggregation in birds, not just in cities, but for the ever increasing numbers of communication towers and wind turbines.

That night Bill learned that certain colours of light are more dangerous than others. Red light, which is typically blamed for bird mortality at tall TV towers, did not provoke bird aggregation but did with blue, green and white light.

Listening to the audio recordings was especially telling. Within minutes of the lights being beamed into the sky the calls of the confused birds increased dramatically. As soon as Bill turned off the lights the calls ended.

In some instances, industry is adopting safer lighting for communication towers and turbines. As for the rest of us, can we be convinced to turn off the lights in our cities?

Geolocators track bird migration routes

Bridget Stutchbury is tracking songbirds with cutting-edge technology: tiny light-level logging geolocators.

Every July, Bridget and her team band the birds with the geolocators and these tiny devices become luggage on the birds’ expansive migratory journey, recording light levels from the sun every two minutes, twenty-four hours per day. The technology translates sunrise and sunset times into longitude and latitude so Bridget knows where the bird was when.

These devices don’t send data, they store it, so to learn anything Bridget needs to get the geolocators back. This coming May Bridget will be in Erie, PA to remove geolocators from the birds she banded ten months earlier.

Last July the SongbirdSOS team was with Bridget when she banded the purple martins that were on their way south. She talked about the surprising results she has collected so far. “We’ve seen birds that have travelled from Pennsylvania to the Gulf Coast in only two days.” That’s 1300 kilometres.

Bridget thinks this data will shake up ornithologists’ models for songbird migration patterns. These birds are flying much faster than she ever thought they could fly. She thinks it may have to do with stiff competition over mates and nest sights.

Understanding the timing of the Purple Martin’s migration route is critical – with climate change altering the timing of the seasons, the survival of the species is at risk. “Climate change is a new threat for songbirds,” says Bridget. “Some of our studies will show that they’re going to have trouble timing their migration to match the changes from one spring to the next. It’s not very good news for some of these songbirds.”

Lights Out for Earth Hour will save migrating birds

Earth Hour is tomorrow! On Saturday March 29 between 8:30 and 9:30 thousands of homes and businesses across the planet will be turning off their lights to celebrate their commitment to the planet.

Humans should of course be concerned about the affect that light pollution and overuse of electricity will have on the environment every day of the year. Light pollution can be deadly for songbirds as they migrate at night. The Fatal Light Awareness Project (FLAP) estimates that between 100 million and 1 billion birds are killed due to window collisions in North America every year.

So even if it just for one hour, Earth Hour helps provide safe passage for migrating birds during spring migration season.

FLAP has just launched a new tool to alert people to the concentration of birds as they fly through the Great Lakes Region. Bird Migration Tracker can let people know to turn lights out at night and treat windows during the day. Bird Migration Tracker is free and available online, try it out yourself on FLAP’s website.

The tool is a live-streaming Web page that displays current weather conditions, moon phase and weather radar. Flocks of migrating birds are so highly concentrated that they appear on weather radar!

Alert levels range from low to extreme and are determined by a compilation of indicators displayed on the webpage. It is imperative to turn lights out at night during Heavy to Extreme intensity alerts.

Have you used Bird Migration Tracker? Tell us what you think.

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