UMN club Art for Birds gives a big effort for their small subjects

The club aims to protect wildlife through art by helping prevent collisions.

Maraya King

Art for Birds at the University of Minnesota began in the fall of 2016 and has been saving lives ever since.

The student group comprises activists and artists and paints and designs windows around campus to deter birds from accidentally flying into them.

Olivia Crowell, founder and president of Art for Birds, said she first hatched the idea when a classmate made a joke about painting the windows so birds wouldn’t run into them. Soon after, she realized how severe of a problem it truly was.

Communications Manager for Audubon Minnesota Ashley Peters said the positioning of the Twin Cities is unique because it has many habitats for birds in addition to being at the top of the Mississippi Flyway, a route that many migrating birds follow.

“A lot of birds we see run into windows are migrating birds, it’s not typically the pigeons or crows you might think of in the city,” she said.

A report done by the Audubon chapter in Minneapolis stated that a recent study estimated between 365 million and 988 million birds die each year in the United States by colliding into buildings.

“Since we are on the Mississippi River, which is a large migration route, the windows around the Twin Cities are a huge problem,” said Taylor Robers, vice president of the club.

Art for Birds has left their mark on buildings around the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses, including the Regis Art Center skyway, McNeal Hall and Boynton Clinic.

Stephanie Beard, the club’s advisor, conducted a survey spanning three years during the fall and spring migrations to identify most hazardous locations to birds on campus.

“Ultimately, I would say the Minneapolis campus is more dangerous,” Beard said, “the three most deadly locations are all skyways.”

When they are not wielding brushes, members of the club are getting out into the community to learn more about their subjects.

Art for Birds has toured the Raptor Center and gotten a behind-the-scenes look at the penguin habitat at the Minnesota Zoo, Robers said.

Right now, they are working on designs for the sociology skyway in Blegen Hall and talking with the Minnesota Zoo about transforming their windows as well, Crowell said.

“The zoo needs to figure out their future building plans to see if we can do their windows, but that would be exciting,” Robers said.

When it comes to deciding which windows to paint, the club seeks out high-risk areas by communicating with facilities around campus.

“They’re the ones that see it every day and have to clean up the birds that crash into windows,” Robers said. “Whenever they want us to do something — we’re up for it.”