Bird-Friendly Communities

Zoo visitors view polar bears through bird-friendly glass

Please welcome Audubon North Carolina’s Bird-Friendly Communities Coordinator Kim Brand. Launched in 2013, Audubon North Carolina’s Bird-Friendly Communities initiative is a partnership program involving more than 20 organizations with a vision for creating a more bird-friendly North Carolina. This vision statement guides the goals and projects of the group: “Bird-friendly communities give birds the opportunity to succeed by providing connected habitat dominated by native plants, minimizing threats posed by the built environment, and engaging people of all ages and backgrounds in stewardship of nature.”

Window collisions kill hundreds of millions of birds each year in the United States, but programs to protect migrating birds are growing across the country. In Asheboro, the North Carolina Zoo has installed bird-friendly glass in the recently expanded polar bear exhibit, which will reduce window collisions from migrating and resident birds.

Polar bear’s view of bird-friendly glass in the new viewing area courtesy of the NC Zoo.

Zoo curators were determined to use new glass at the polar bear exhibit that would be safe for birds. General Curator Ken Reininger chose a well-researched bird protection glass during the planning and design process for this exhibit. The bird protection glass appears transparent to people from almost all angles, providing the clear view that is necessary for happy zoo visitors. Birds see farther into the ultraviolet end of the light spectrum than people do, and this bird protection glass takes advantage of that with an embedded UV-reflective pattern the birds can actually see. Kristen Hess at HH Architecture designed the exhibit expansion.

North Carolina Zoo’s Curator of Birds Debbie Zombeck keeps records of bird window collisions in the park, and looks for solutions for especially problematic windows. A glass panel in the cougar exhibit was causing several collisions during migration, so she’s asked zookeepers to cover the panel with bed sheets when the zoo is closed. When any exhibit is temporarily closed for an extended period of time, zookeepers mark the glass with soap to prevent bird strikes if the exhibit glass has been problematic. Zombeck expects future construction at the zoo to include bird-safe glass solutions as much as is economically feasible.

Zoo visitors can enjoy a clear view of polar bears through bird-friendly glass, which looks transparent to people but has an embedded UV-reflective pattern that birds see and avoid. The striped glass in the upper panel is also bird-friendly. The quarter-inch gaps between stripes are much too small for birds to consider flying through. Photo courtesy of the NC Zoo.

Markings on the outside of glass, if they are close enough together – vertical lines 4 inches apart or horizontal lines 2 inches apart – have been shown to reduce bird strikes dramatically. The polar bear exhibit also includes glass striped with ceramic frits from Glass Dynamics Inc. in Stoneville, NC.

Photo courtesy of Arnold Glas. What birds see when they look at bird friendly glass.

Injured birds are rehabilitated on site at the Valerie Schindler Wildlife Center and released if they have recovered completely. Migratory species that retain some ability to fly but not enough to be released may be transferred to the RJ Reynolds Tropical Forest Aviary at the zoo. Current species on exhibit include the Summer Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Hermit Thrush.

Some of the recovered bird carcasses are sent to the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh for their collection.

Window collisions aren’t exclusive to tall buildings and large developments. If you have a problem window in your own home, check out these solutions from Forsyth Audubon member and wildlife rehabilitator Jean Chamberlain.

To combat window collisions during peak migration time, Audubon North Carolina organizes Lights Out initiatives in three major cities including Charlotte, Raleigh and Winston-Salem. Click here to learn more about the program or find out how you can get involved.

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