Atlanta among most dangerous cities for birds crashing into buildings

ATLANTA — Researchers estimate up to 1 billion birds are killed each year because they collide with windows on businesses and homes. It’s a frustrating number for bird conservationists in metro Atlanta who say bird collisions are preventable.

Severe Weather Team 2 Meteorologist Eboni Deon met Georgia Audubon’s Adam Betuel in Buckhead during the fall migration season to see the problem firsthand. Betuel said Atlanta’s bright lights draw birds in when they travel at night. Then buildings with transparent or reflective glass confuse them.

Betuel took Deon to a cluster of buildings to show her the issue firsthand. “It kind of illustrates the complexity we have with this problem of glass,” Betuel explained. “Too reflective and it shows all the habitat that confuses birds, too transparent and the birds do not pick up glass as a barrier at all.”

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Atlanta is the ninth most dangerous city for birds traveling in the spring and fourth in the fall according to a 2019 report by Cornell University. Metro high-rises are hardly the worst offender.

Betuel said birds collide with any reflective glass at tree level. Home windows are responsible for more than 40% of collisions.

“If we don’t address the buildings, we don’t make our cities safer. We’re losing those birds, and all the important services, and joy that they bring,” Betuel said.

Betuel and a handful of volunteers have found thousands of birds killed by collisions since they started looking a few years ago. While it’s impossible to find them all, he said the variety collected shows how big the problem is. They’ve found more than 100 species of birds. Hummingbirds, robins, and varieties of warblers top the list.

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The issue is especially frustrating to conservationists because steps can be taken to keep birds from flying into windows.

The Kendeda building at Georgia Tech is an example of bird-safe design. Kendeda is one of 28 living buildings around the world. Kendeda horticulturist Steve Place explained that birds see little dots manufactured into the glass of the building and don’t fly into the window.

“You can see the airiness and all the natural sunlight that comes in. When you’re designing a building that way you have to really think about okay, well who else are we inviting?” Place asked.

While Kendeda thought of birds in the design, it can be expensive, and sometimes not very stylish, to make existing glass bird safe. Adhesive dots, films and even string placed outside windows warn birds. Even easier, you can turn off the lights in homes and buildings to keep night-migrating birds from coming near in the first place.

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Place said students are counting bird strikes across campus to find dangerous windows.

“Of course, it’s always more expensive to retrofit,” Place said. “For us we have so many buildings and so many courtyards and that sort of thing we really wanted to be careful with our resources.”

Adam Betuel understands it’s a hard pitch to commercial building owners, but high-rise views of Atlanta’s tree canopy won’t be as beautiful without songbirds.

“I understand that attraction, but there are ways that just slightly affect the look of a building that will nearly eliminate those collisions,” Betuel said.

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