Category Archives: Bird Mortality

Collisions and Windows

Birds are an important part of nature and naturally, keep the ecosystem running. Saying this, incorporating nature into urban planning is key in keeping a happier, livelier community, thus bird mortality should be a topic that people should become aware about. There are numerous factors that contribute to bird mortality, but one thing that seems to stand out the most is collisions. In one study, there was an estimated 8 to 57 million birds killed by some type of collision. Though this is just one study, the numbers are definitely high for mortality. What is shocking is that an estimated 97-976 million birds are killed per year from window strikes and 174 million from high-tension line collisions. Furthermore, 56% of deaths are due to the occasional collisions into buildings between 4 to 11 stories high and 44% caused from collisions into buildings between 1 to 3 stories high.


There were surprisingly a good number of deceased birds found when our biogrounds group walked around grounds, specifically around New Cabell and Nau Hall. Both buildings fall into the category of small buildings between the heights of 1-11 stories high. As a group, we found four birds around New Cabell Hall and one around Nau Hall. It is interesting to see how small buildings have more fatal causes to birds than high-rise skyscrapers. The U.S. has 15.1 million low-rise buildings and only about 21,000 skyscrapers. Clearly, more harm is done to birds around communities with lower rise buildings, contrary to what most people may believe. JuHee and I found one bird under some bushed by the main entrance of Nau Hall, which was a Song Sparrow (see picture below). Nau Hall is only a four-story building and has many windows surrounding it, making it an easy target for this particular bird to crash into and die. So now the real question is how can we try to prevent or limit the number of birds that die each year?

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Crashing into building glass is one of the main factors that cause bird mortality every year. As stated earlier, an estimated 97-976 million birds die every year. These beings usually collide with glass on buildings whether they are skyscrapers or windows in regular homes. A main reasoning for collisions with glass is due to the fact that birds believe that the reflection of the sky and trees is real, and therefore do not learn to move away from the glass in time before the collision happens. One of the solutions that may help to decrease the number of deaths is to incorporate the use of Ornilux glass.


This is a type of glass that is visible to birds, but not to humans. The birds are able to see the patterns on the glass because of the UV reflecting coating. According to the American Bird Conservancy, the Ornilux glass has been proved to be very effective in minimizing bird collisions with glass. Fritted glass, which also contains lines and patterns, within the glass, can also help reduce window strikes. Other solutions include attaching strips of tape on the outside of glass, or having feathers hanging outside windows.

It is crucial for everyone to understand the importance of such high bird mortality rates. This issue can negatively impact the natural flow in nature and ecosystem. Collisions with glass windows are one of the biggest reasons that disturb the bird life in our modern world. With the proven statistics of bird mortality, we can address this issue by having smarter urban planning ideas, such as using the Ornilux glass or fritted glass to prevent more collisions.

Post by Lauren Diaz-Yi and JuHee Bae


Power Lines and Electrocutions

The Problem

Our research team has discovered that power lines are cause for millions of bird deaths each year.  These deaths are caused by either direct collision with the lines, which can be nearly invisible in poor weather conditions, or electrocutions due to the bird’s large wing span bridging the gap between two lines or a line and a pole.

The Solution

Since a single bird electrocution can cause power outages for thousands of customers at a time, power companies have been increasingly compliant in implementing solutions to the electrocution problem.  In 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act became a United States federal law and made it unlawful without a waiver to pursue, capture, or kill, even if unintentionally,  migratory birds.  In 1999, the Moon Lake Electric Association of Colorado was forced to pay $100,000 in fines after being found guilty to violating this act, as their electric lines had killed thousands of birds.  Many other associations and power companies around the country took action to fit their lines with bird-safety devices after this incident.

Furthermore, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has produced a short video entitled, “Raptors at Risk,” explaining the electrocution problem and has distributed it to power companies around the country.  The video includes information on fitting existing power lines with bird-safety measures, including visual markers, insulating sheaths, and wider separation between lines.

Dominion Virginia Power, our local power company, has implemented a strategic undergrounding program, due to begin in 2016.  Although not directly related to decreasing bird mortality, Dominion will install new underground equipment, replacing 4,000 miles of overhead lines, and saving millions of birds.

Post by Allison Jaros


Janss, Guyonne F. “Avian Mortality from Power Lines: A Morphologic Approach of a Species-Specific Mortality.” Department of Applied Biology: 5-12. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

“Power Line Collisions and Electrocutions.” Power Line Collisions and Electrocutions. American Bird Conservation, 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

“Strategic Underground Program.” Strategic Underground Program. Dominion, 2015. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

“Strategic Undergrown July 2014.” YouTube. DomCorpComm, 2 July 2014. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.


Saving the Birds of Charlottesville: Creating The Plan

It is estimated that “500 million to possibly over 1 billion birds are killed annually in the United States due to anthropogenic sources” and “collisions with human-made structures” (Erikson et al., 1). Our BioGrounds team therefore hopes to utilize this semester to monitor and assess the various “problem areas” around Grounds that prove harmful for the birds of Charlottesville.

In order to focus our data collection, we have chosen Nau Hall, Rice Hall, and the New Cabell Courtyard. These areas have a few common characteristics that are known to cause confusion and danger for birds and their flight patterns, such as building height and extensive large glass windows. In an attempt to expand on the work completed last year, we will also be looking into areas with high-tension wires and communication towers. Members of our team will assess bird mortality rates and occurrences around these areas on a weekly basis throughout the rest of the semester and record their findings on a shared document for later reference. Although our team will not be conducting daily observations, we believe that a longer assessment stretched over the next few months will account for any changes in migration patterns.

Also, in order to expand our evaluation of bird mortality, our team plans to reach out to multiple resources both here on Grounds and in bird-protection community. We are in the process of contacting Facilities Maintenance, in order to see if they have any insight on bird mortality at UVa or willingness to assist us in our weekly observations. In addition, we plan to speak with a representative of Dominion Power to address our questions regarding the effects of power lines on bird mortality and to get in touch with the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), in order to gain a better understanding of general bird collection and mortality prevention.

At the end of the semester, our BioGrounds team will compile all recorded data and examine our findings. Our hope is that our assessments, along with information provided by Facilities Management, Dominion Power, and FLAP, will allow us to determine the buildings and areas that prove detrimental to the birds of Charlottesville.

Works Cited

Erikson, Wallace, Gregory Johnson, and David Young, Jr. A Summary and Comparison of Bird Mortality from Anthropogenic Causes with an Emphasis on Collisions (2005): TreeSearch. USDA Forest Service. Web.

Post by Maggie Gratz

Recommendations for Future Research

This semester, we did not have great success finding evidence of bird mortality around Charlottesville. Throughout our ‘bioblitz’ time, we were only able to site four deceased birds, two of which did not seem to have a correlation with building design. Looking forward, we have identified how our methods could be improved in the future:

  1. Better communication with facilities management staff
    • This semester we had difficulty coordinating with the staff because there were several maintenance staff that were not assigned to a specific location. This made it difficult to ask them to record and report any bird mortality sightings at our two chosen buildings
    • Future groups should try to coordinate with all staff, and possibly ask them to have a collection bin for birds that we could count, in addition to our scheduled observation times

2. Look into additional buildings that could be problems, rather than simply focusing on Campbell and Nau.

    • Some other buildings that could pose problems are: Rice Hall and some of the new dorms
Figure 1 Rice Hall, a UVA engineering school building was built in 2011. This picture displays the building’s large glass outcropping that could be detrimental to birds. Forty percent of the surface area of the building is glass.
Figure 1 Rice Hall, a UVA engineering school building was built in 2011. This picture displays the building’s large glass outcropping that could be detrimental to birds. Forty percent of the surface area of the building is glass.

We also looked into additional things that could be done at UVA to raise awareness about the issue of bird mortality. A few ideas we had included:

  1. Art Display
    • Save and use any dead birds found throughout the semester in an art display, like the Audubon Society in New York City
    • Possible locations: Campbell Hall, Downtown Mall
    • This could act as an effort to increase public awareness in the Charlottesville community.
  1. Citizen Science Program for Collection of Dead Birds
    • Create a program for UVA students to collect and report data on dead birds that they spot around Ground
    • Options: phone number for texting in pictures and information, online submission form, or iPhone application
    • Publicize this program through Facebook, science and A-school classes, tabling, and emailing listservs

Post by Kaye Thomas, Katherine Roderick, and Abby Curcio

Creating Awareness

While our group has yet to make any discoveries of deceased birds around UVA and Charlottesville, we know that these deaths exist and are most likely more prevalent in warmer months due to migratory patterns. For example, the ruby-throated hummingbird, a commonly affected species that is found in Charlottesville, migrates to Virginia around mid-April until the end of May (Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries).

We have been looking into preventative methods that would be specifically beneficial to the UVA community. According to the Wilson School of Ornithology, one of the most effective ways of deterring bird strikes is the installation of fritted glass. Depending on how large the investment may be, UVA should look into installing fitted glass windows in Campbell Hall and Nau Hall, the two buildings we determined are most likely to encourage bird strikes. The Wilson School article also revealed that uniformly covering windows with decals or other objects that are separated by 5 to 10 centimeters was completely or near-completely effective in preventing strikes. This would be a cheap and effective option for UVA buildings to put on their windows. Finally, the study discovered that one in four bird strikes leaves no evidence of a collision after 24 hours, which may explain why our BioGrounds group has been unable to detect any birds. When buildings are not constantly monitored, 25% of bird strikes are undetected.

It is important to understand not only what causes these deaths and how to prevent them, but also why people should care to begin with. Birds have a restorative effect that is often overlooked, but that many people noted when directly asked about it. Studies have shown that people describe birdsongs as relaxing and have found them to supplement stress recovery (Ratcliffe 222). This is an instance in which birds show their inherent ability to enhance stress and attention restoration. People tend to dismiss birdsongs or classify them as an annoyance, but perhaps if they actually stopped to listen and appreciate the sound, they would experience its restorative benefits.

Works Cited

Ratcliffe, Eleanor. Birgitta Gatersleben and Paul T. Sowden. “Bird Sounds and Their Contributions to Perceived Attention Restoration and Stress Recovery”. Journal of Environmental Psychology. Sept. 2, 2013. Web.

Post by Susannah Saunders, Alison Lanshe, and Carolyn Albright

Vulnerable Bird Species in Virginia

Our lack of findings of bird mortality incidences around UVA buildings led us to research the overlap between birds commonly affected by building lights and the common species of birds found in Charlottesville. According to a featured article in the March 16th, 2014 edition of the Washington Post Magazine, scientists now know the top bird species that are most vulnerable to death by buildings because of the rescue and collection efforts of Lights Out programs across the U.S. (Houppert 2014). We listed the top 5 species nationwide, along with the top 7 species found specifically in Baltimore and DC, due to these cities’ proximity to our region that we are investigating. We compared these species to the Monticello Bird Club’s “A Birder’s Guide to Charlottesville, Virginia and Vicinity” to see whether or not these species were common in our area during the Spring season, since that is the season where our observations took place.

As our table shows, four of the eleven species we looked into are rare or uncommon in Charlottesville during the Spring (Klotz 2010). However, the majority of the species that are often found dead due to lights are indeed common to the Charlottesville area (Klotz 2010). This indicates that vulnerable species do exist in Charlottesville, so there must be another reason for our lack of findings. Now that we know which species are commonly found dead, we will look more into these specific species’ migratory habits to see whether that could be the reason that we have yet to find any around our buildings. It is possible and looks hopeful that Nau Hall and Campbell Hall actually do not pose a problem for migratory birds.

Bird Species

Presence in Charlottesville/Albemarle in the Spring

Most common birds found by Lights Out nationwide

Black-throated blue warbler Common
Ruby-throated hummingbird Common
Golden-winged warbler Rare
Brown creeper Uncommon

Most common birds found dead by Lights Out Baltimore and DC

White-throated sparrow Common
Common yellowthroat Common
Ovenbird Common
Gray catbird Common
Song sparrow Common
American woodcock Uncommon
Swamp sparrow Uncommon

Source: Houppert 2014

Source: Colganazar.
Source: Colganazar.

Works Cited

Colganazar, Kelly. White-throated Sparrow. Digital image. All About Birds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.

Houppert, Karen. “Lights Out.” Washington Post Magazine 16 Mar. 2014: 20-25. Web.

Klotz, Ken. A Birder’s Guide to Charlottesville, Virginia and Vicinity. Charlottesville: Monticello Bird Club, 2010. Print.

Post by Katherine Roderick and Susannah Saunders

Light Pollution in Virginia

Our team has been researching FLAP’s (Fatal Light Awareness Program) initiatives and plans to contact them about what time of year they find the highest amount of dead birds in Toronto. Because our group has been unlucky in our findings so far, we are wondering if birds have not yet migrated through Charlottesville. As it is finally becoming warmer outside, we may start to see more species of birds moving to Charlottesville. We are going to ask FLAP if they have any data about what species of birds fly through the mid-Atlantic region at this time of year.

Additionally, our team came across a Dark Virginia Sky article about Light Pollution’s toll on migratory birds. Below is a satellite image of the highest rates of light pollution in the state of Virginia. We are curious if this map correlates with bird mortality rates in the cities and counties that have the most light pollution. The Dark Virginia Sky article also includes a Washington Post feature about Lights Out’s efforts to decrease the bird death toll in cities such as Baltimore and Washington, DC. The birds most commonly found by Lights Out organizations in the mid-Atlantic region are the white throated sparrow, the common yellowthroat, the ovenbird, and the gray catbird. We plan to attempt to get in contact with the Lights Out organizations in Baltimore and DC to see if their findings match up with Charlottesville’s species of birds with high mortality rates.




Works Cited:

Post by Alison Lanshe, Fourth-Year, Media Studies and American Studies

Lack of Results Possibly Attributed to Patterns of Bird Migration

Our research team has been frequenting the perimeters of both Nau/Gibson and Campbell Hall. Although our team has yet to find any sign of bird mortality in these areas, we do believe that the buildings raise a cause for concern. Both structures are relatively tall in comparison to other buildings across Grounds and have numerous reflective surfaces that pose a danger to birds.

Our team believes that our lack of findings can be attributed to several factors. First and foremost, we believe that groundskeepers and maintenance staff may be picking the dead birds up before we have a chance to observe them. Next, we also hypothesize that the number of birds in the area may be lower than in warmer months and that many birds may not have migrated back due to the weather. According to our research on predicted migratory patterns, the arrival date of certain species within Charlottesville occurs later in April.  Finally, our research on bird mortality has suggested that bird mortality occurs most commonly with buildings that are much taller than Nau and Campbell Hall.


Works Cited

Hoos for Saving Birds

Building strikes are the cause of 365-988 million bird mortalities annually in the United States (Loss et al.). Our BioGrounds group hopes to explore the prevalence of these mortalities in Charlottesville, Virginia and analyze the contributing factors. Finally, based on external research, we will suggest recommendations to lower the bird mortality rate and improve conditions for birds in Charlottesville.

We selected two buildings on the grounds of the University of Virginia to focus our efforts. Nau Hall and Campbell Hall were chosen based on the presence of large glass windows that reflect sunlight and give the appearance of a safe flight route. Additionally, the buildings are at a height that birds most commonly fly at, increasing the possibility for collision (San Francisco Planning Department 17). We plan to visit each building daily for two weeks. We will circle the perimeter of buildings, observe the buildings’ structures, and look for evidence of bird mortalities. These visits will be conducted in the mornings to maximize our chances of finding this supporting evidence because most mortalities occur at night due to low visibility during flight.

Additionally, we plan to schedule meetings with the Maintenance Directors of the buildings. These Maintenance Directors are highly familiar with the buildings’ structure and external conditions. We believe they may have stories or rough estimates of bird mortalities to share with us. We will ask if they have any further input to contribute to our findings. We also plan to get in contact with the Fatal Light Awareness Project (FLAP), in order to learn more about the group’s methods that will assist as we finalize our own methods in gathering data, as outlined above.

At the conclusion of our project, we will combine the quantitative data and qualitative observations from our visits to Nau and Campbell Halls, additional input from our discussions with the Building Maintenance Directors, and research into FLAP and other bird mortality prevention groups. We hope to offer solid recommendations for the University of Virginia and City of Charlottesville to proceed in improving conditions for the birds of Charlottesville.

Bird Mortality at UVa
Photo by Kaye Thomas
Bird Mortality at UVa
Photo by Kaye Thomas

Works Cited

Loss at al. Bird–building Collisions in the United States: Estimates of Annual Mortality and Species Vulnerability. The Condor: Ornithological Applications. January 2014.

San Francisco Planning Department. Standards for Bird-Safe Buildings. San Francisco, California: n.p., 2011. Print.


Post by Katherine Roderick, Susannah Saunders, Carolyn Albright, and Alison Lanshe