Biology students lead investigation into bird-friendliness at WMU

The second leading cause of death among birds in the United States is bird-window collisions. Up to a billion birds are killed in the U.S. each year because of bird-window collisions. A new study conducted by the students of BIO 1620 examines the relationship between bird window collisions and buildings on Western Michigan University’s campus.

The issue was brought to the attention of BIO 1620 professor Dr. Sharon Gill, by Dr. Denise Keele a political science and environmental studies and sustainability professor and Dr. Gail Walter from the Audubon Society of Kalamazoo.

The main part of the study, which surveyed various buildings on campus for bird carcasses, occurred between Sept. 11 to Oct. 15 with daily surveys from 2 to 4 p.m. during the time frame.

Gill says the intent of the study was to understand if bird collisions really occur on campus.

“Our aim was to understand if bird window collisions were a problem on campus,” Gill said. “We knew from past observations that people would pick up birds and they would bring them to me, so I knew it happened but we didn’t know if it was all buildings or with what regularity birds were hitting windows.”

Many people didn’t think that this was a problem, including Dr. Gill’s students when they were presented with the study.

“When I asked my class about this, many of them came back and said ‘I didn’t know this was a thing,’” Gill said. “It suggests that it isn’t a well known problem in the community at large.”

Gill decided that she wanted to give her students real science experience as part of this study.

“Students in science courses would benefit from having a real science experience, we don’t know the answer,” Gill said. “That’s what science is all about, answering unknown (questions) and so it was a good opportunity for students in my big class to do that.”

Gill says The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 makes it illegal to disturb or take a birds nest and bird feathers or to possess a bird unless you have a proper permit. Dr. Gill has the proper permit to collect birds

Gill has found dead birds on campus before, while she expected to find more dead birds she didn’t know what else to expect.

“We had the observations of people bringing in birds so I expected that we would find some (birds).” Gill said. “I didn’t know which buildings would be the culprits or if there would be a small number (of buildings) that would be most responsible.”

This study found that 47 birds from 26 species collided with certain buildings on campus.

The College of Health and Human Services had 17 bird collisions, Haneicke Hall had 10 bird collisions, Schneider Hall had nine bird collisions, Wood Hall had three bird collisions, the walkways at Richmond as well as between Wood and the Chemistry Building had three bird collisions and the Everett and Rood hall Walkways had two bird collisions and Miller Auditorium had three bird collisions.

Sophomore Katelyn Kurrie is one of Dr. Gill’s students who participated in the study. She believes there are solutions to the problem that won’t be costly to the university.

“There are so many options out there that are so cost effective and they’re just bettering the campus, not just for students but for wildlife,” Kurrie said.

Sophomore Maxwell Stevens, also a student of Dr. Gills, also believes the university can do a better job.

“It’s just a small change we can implement here, we can just put the (bird friendly) tape on the windows and that’s it, then the campus is bird friendly,” Stevens said.

Kurrie really enjoyed the study, not just for the learning experience but also because it included the students.

“I liked that it was very involved and very inclusive, but included us undergrads and I think it was just valuable to be a part of,” Kurrie said.

If you come across a dead bird and wonder what species it is, according to Gill, there is an app called INaturalist. With this app you can take a picture of the bird and upload it to the app and other people can identify the type of bird.

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