Into the Wild: Fall brings new effort to protect migrating birds

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Back in May, during spring migration, I wrote about the problem of birds dying after colliding with reflective windows. Now it’s fall migration, and the collisions are peaking again.

But this time you can do something about it.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that, at a minimum, 1 million birds die each day in the U.S. from accidentally flying into windows. The glass reflects the sky or habitat, and birds collide thinking they’re flying free. Or, windows illuminated from inside at night are invisible to birds and they collide thinking they’re flying through emptiness.

This fall, we’re taking action. Maine Audubon has partnered with the University of Southern Maine, the Portland Society for Architecture, and Avian Haven to begin monitoring a particular route between Commercial and Congress streets, checking at the base of each building for birds on the sidewalk. USM students are already scouring the streets in the early mornings, trying to find bird carcasses before the gulls can.

But we’re a small team, and we need your help.

Although we are walking a particular circuit around some of the buildings birds are most likely to collide with (the ones with the most glass), our route is not the only place where birds are dying. Birds die all over the city, and against residential windows, too. It’s perhaps a more obvious problem in cities where birds are lying on the sidewalk, but windows are dangerous everywhere.

So, if you live in greater Portland and see a songbird laying dead on the sidewalk or in the bushes, I want to know about it. I want you to take some photos, and I want to know the address and the date that you found it. Send everything to BirdStrike@MaineAudubon.org.

A couple of tips: The photos are really important, so get some good ones showing the bird in close-up and with the building nearby. Channel your inner photojournalist. And we do not need the physical bodies of the birds for this project, so if you feel comfortable moving the bird to some bushes to decompose, that’s great. If you find a live bird that you think needs rehabilitation, call Avian Haven at 207-382-6761.

We’re looking mainly for smaller birds – sparrows, warblers, hummingbirds, and other species migrating over Portland at night in September and October. We’re not looking for pigeons or gulls, which have for the most part become skilled at avoiding reflective windows but may die in the city for other reasons.

Anything and everything we get will be useful. We need help making the case to the city of Portland that our building codes should be updated to require bird-safe materials.

Several cities are way ahead of us, including New York City, which passed legislation in December requiring new construction to use bird-safe technologies. We want Portland to enact something similar, and we need your eyes in the sky, and on the ground, to help us.

Nick Lund of Cumberland is outreach and network manager at Maine Audubon. He has written about nature for the National Audubon Society, Down East, National Parks Magazine, The Washington Post, and others. He can be found online at TheBirdist.com and on Twitter @TheBirdist.