Some University members concerned about birds dying after flying into windows

The Office of Sustainability doesn’t maintain a record of how many bird collisions happen at each campus.

Windows outside the Cancer & Cardiovascular Research Building Building as seen on Thursday, Oct 8.

Image by Jasmin Kemp

Windows outside the Cancer & Cardiovascular Research Building Building as seen on Thursday, Oct 8.

by Gwiwon Jason Nam

Birds flying into windows and dying is something that occurs almost daily in the summer and fall months, according to Bridget Nieto, an employee at the University of Minnesota’s Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building.

Nieto, an area supervisor for the University’s Research Animal Resources, has contacted various building coordinators over the last couple of years about “bird-strike deaths,” hoping to show that the issue needs to be addressed. Nieto has contacted building management in the past but says nothing has been done.

“We do occasionally hear from University community members about birds that have hit buildings and died as a result of that impact,” said Shane Stennes, the University’s director of sustainability. 

Stennes said the University usually gets notified about these incidents from a student or employee, and they often call the Facilities Management call center to report the dead bird. Then, the University’s Land Care department often gets dispatched to go pick up the bird’s carcass and then remove it from the building area. 

“What we do as a University to minimize the amount of time that that happens is that we, in all of our new construction, follow a sustainable building guideline called B3 — Buildings, Benchmarks and Beyond,” Stennes said. 

It’s a set of guidelines published by the State of Minnesota for sustainability and new construction, according to Stennes.  

“Those guidelines are guidelines about how to make buildings more safe for birds, and so we incorporate that bird-safe building guidance in the construction of new buildings on campus,” Stennes said.

The Office of Sustainability doesn’t maintain a record of how many bird collisions happen at each campus. 

Stennes said they have seen some decreases in the number of bird deaths. 

“It doesn’t usually go to zero. But it does usually decrease when we take some steps. But trying to address an existing facility is often complicated because it’s not always the same solution or the same approach that works for every building,” Stennes said. “It’s more anecdotal in nature, that we receive fewer calls and fewer concerns from people about birds striking windows after we’ve implemented certain strategies on certain buildings.” 

Karen Collins, a team manager of Facilities Management’s St. Paul District Team 2, has worked with various people over the last few years trying to get some solutions for a couple of problem areas where birds fly into windows.

“During migration usually, it’s sometimes hard to really pinpoint where the problems are exactly. And if what we did, is this really helping, or is it just they’re not coming this year? So I think we’ve had some challenges just figuring out where is the best place to really concentrate on their areas,” Collins said. 

Nieto argues that there has been an overall decline in the bird population and needless deaths associated with window strikes hit the population even harder.

“The birds fly into them because they only see the reflection of habitat and think they are flying forward but instead smack into the window, then they fall to the ground and that impact is what usually kills them,” Nieto said. 

There are things that occupants in the building can do to help minimize that, according to Stennes.

“Things like turning off lights in the building at night, especially during this time of year when birds are migrating through the Minneapolis-St. Paul area,” Stennes said.

Stennes said the University is taking steps to reduce the number of collisions.

“Every situation is unique. The University’s a big campus with over 280 buildings, so it’s an ongoing process given our size and our scope and something that we’re always trying to improve on and learn from to figure out how we can do better.”