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ODU Researchers Examine Bird Collisions Across the Nation

By Noell Saunders

Nearly 1 billion birds die annually in North America after colliding with building windows. But Old Dominion University Student, Natasha Hagemeyer and her team is working to change that.

Hagemeyer, an ecological sciences Ph.D. candidate; and Eric Walters, an assistant professor in biological sciences, spent three years studying a number of bird species that are affected by bird-building collisions, including species that are important in conservation and that are declining throughout their ranges.

Throughout the study, the researchers discovered a significant amount of bird carcasses near six areas on and around ODU's campus.

"ODU is in a great position to do a lot of research on species that are vulnerable as they travel from the north towards South America," Hagemeyer said, referring to birds' migratory paths.

Old Dominion is located in the middle of the Atlantic Flyway, one of the four major migratory pathways in North America.

In 2014, Hagemeyer and her team were asked to join a nationwide survey of bird/window strikes that was organized through the Ecological Research as Education Network. The survey, led by an international team of more than 60 researchers, monitored nearly 300 buildings at 40 college and university campuses, including Old Dominion, throughout North America.

Hagemeyer said the biggest problem is the birds can't see reflective surfaces.

"There aren't any large transparent objects in the wild, and mirrored windows can reflect habitats," she said. "In our study, we found that most of these bird strikes are happening in areas where vegetation is next to windows. If a bird is moving quickly they might not see the building or wall until it's too late."

In the survey, researchers documented a total of 324 bird carcasses, with an average of 8.1 carcasses per site. The research from the survey, including ODU's study, has been compiled into a peer review article called, "Continent-Wide Analysis of How Urbanization Affects Bird-Window Collision Mortality in North America." The article can be found in the scientific journal "Biological Conservation."

Hagemeyer, who is one of the authors along with Walters, said she hopes the article will help raise awareness about the dangers of bird interactions and the need to protect bird species.

"Birds hitting the windshields of cars and airplanes, or people possibly being exposed to diseases by having carcasses lying around, is very serious," she said.

Hagemeyer added that birds are an integral part of the ecosystem and simple steps like acquiring bird-safe windows with UV light patterns, moving bird feeders away from reflective surfaces or putting markers on windows so birds can see them can make a difference.

"Birds keep the rodent and insect populations down and they also make homes for other animals," Hagemeyer said. "This project is a great way to engage the public in understanding conservation while limiting our effects on the earth and creatures around us."

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