Queen’s takes steps to protect migratory birds passing through campus

Graduate researcher leads new sustainability project

The project has focused on two buildings: Biosciences Complex and the Humphrey Crane building.
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Despite everything that’s happened this year, it’s just another year for Canadian wildlife.

Like every other fall, birds are preparing for the long journey of migrating to warmer climates before winter begins. They will have many obstacles to contend with as they make this trip—with one in particular posing a dangerously inconspicuous threat: clear glass windows. 

The Queen’s Office of Sustainability, led by Environmental Studies graduate student Maleeka Thaker, is taking on the task of mitigating the risk of birds colliding into windows on campus. Currently, the project has focused on two buildings: Biosciences Complex and the Humphrey Crane building. 

The Office is installing window film with tiny dots that are relatively invisible to most people over 15 feet away, but allows the birds to see there’s something solid they should avoid. 

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“Given their vision, a lot of birds can’t tell when they see glass, that it’s something tangible that they can actually hit. They either see the reflection or they see right through […] they don’t perceive it as an obstacle,” Thaker said in an interview with The Journal

Kingston, given its large green spaces and waterfront location, poses a larger risk to birds than other cities. The City is located in the midst of some transnational bird migration routes, increasing the possibility of such collisions. 

On Queen’s campus, many of the newer buildings have incorporated large glass windows to help students and staff connect to nature. While this is a positive feature for the people who work in the buildings, it poses an additional risk for birds passing through campus. 

“Since we’re creating a threat to them, it’s our responsibility to minimize that threat as much as possible, wherever we can,” Thaker said.

The goal of the project is to first find out how many collisions there are between birds and windows on campus, and then to install the film and find out the extent to which it helps prevent them. 

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Thaker originally had the idea while working on an assignment for a course about the danger of lights in buildings to birds at night. 

Through her research, she realized there was also a more general risk of the reflectivity of glass windows. 

With the help of various volunteers, staff, and professors, she began researching the risk as a graduate student. 

“[T]his is something that affects birds worldwide […] the annual mortality total for Canada is estimated to be 25 million birds per year, so it’s an important project for people to take up in their own lives as well.”

Regarding the future of the project, Thaker said they’re hoping to include student art in the design of the window films. Right now, they’re using clear film, but dressing it up by incorporating student art could help to raise awareness around the issue and make it more collaborative. 

They’re also hoping to increase the number of buildings and windows on campus that use the film as they further discover how it helps birds migrate safely.  

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