Bird strikes take heavy toll

Northwoods Notebook

Betsy Bloom Photo
The red-bellied woodpecker is a relatively recent arrival to the Upper Peninsula that likely has taken advantage of the growing popularity of feeding birds to expand its range northward over the past few decades. This one was in the backyard at Six Mile Lake in north Dickinson County, waiting for a turn at the suet cage.

Betsy Bloom Photo The red-bellied woodpecker is a relatively recent arrival to the Upper Peninsula that likely has taken advantage of the growing popularity of feeding birds to expand its range northward over the past few decades. This one was in the backyard at Six Mile Lake in north Dickinson County, waiting for a turn at the suet cage.

The annual spring migration does appear to have started early in Michigan this year, according to numerous reports downstate.

Heidi Trudell confirms that woodcock, a familiar species in the Upper Peninsula, already have reached the Detroit area.

How does she know for certain? Because one turned up dead downtown on Thursday after hitting a building window.

This column originally was going to focus on what might trigger early migration. Then I got on the phone with Trudell, regional coordinator for a group called Washtenaw Safe Passage, an organization that works to raise awareness about the toll windows take on birds.

They and another Facebook site, Dead Birds (for Science), invite people to report data about birds killed by a variety of factors, as long as it’s not intentional — in other words, no hunting photos.

This is not some morbid fascination but an effort to document how, for example, placing wind energy turbines and shiny glass buildings along known migration routes might present a significant hazard to birds. The loss each year could total an estimated 365 million to more than a billion birds, according to a study done earlier this decade by an Oklahoma State University researcher working with the Smithsonian Institute and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Dead Birds (for Science) site recently had links posted to news stories on how the Minnesota Vikings’ new U.S. Bank Stadium, massive and heavy on glass in design, has become the deadliest building in Minneapolis for birds — and monitors from the Audubon Society believe they only tallied a fraction of the birds killed, since not all of the stadium is accessible to the public.

Usually the group in Washtenaw County, which includes Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, doesn’t begin getting reports of bird-window collisions until later in the season — last year, the first recorded migrating bird strike came April 14.

But a mild winter — “I’m from Texas,” Trudell said, “and I haven’t really been that uncomfortable” — seems to have a number of species showing ahead of schedule, she said. She admitted that less snow has them looking earlier as well.

Most of the early arrivals will be males, eager to stake claim to the better nesting territories. The females eventually will follow, after the males have sorted things out.

But as the flocks move through, the number and variety of bird strikes inevitably will rise, Trudell said. She fears an earlier start only will mean an extended migratory season and higher body count.

“Finding birds so much earlier this year is kind of unnerving,” she said.

The first official migrating bird window collision in Pittsburgh for 2017, oddly enough, also came Thursday and was a woodcock, found stunned on a downtown sidewalk. Unlike the Detroit bird, it was still alive and was taken to a wildlife rehabilitator.

Unfortunately, about half of the birds that initially survive a window strike will succumb later to their injuries, usually from a brain hemorrhage, Trudell said. Or they can fall prey to a predator while dulled or incapacitated from the collision.

It’s not just big cities and big buildings that pose a risk, either. Most bird strikes are recorded in buildings only five stories or lower, Trudell said.

And here’s the part that bring the issue closer to home — the average residence will have two to 16 fatal bird strikes a year, according to that joint study mentioned above. Some of the most familiar and beloved U.P. species, such as ruby-throated hummingbirds and dark-eyed juncos, are among the most common involved in glass collisions, according to the American Bird Conservancy.

So how can homeowners avoid adding to the toll? Trudell recommends the ABC’s website at collision.abcbirds.org for more information on treating windows so they are more visible. Just putting up stickers or hawk silhouettes is not enough, she advised.

“I would love,” she quipped, “to see people practicing safe migration at home.”

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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