Rural structures pose greater relative threat to birds than urban ones

Common yellowthroat (2). Photo by Mick DrydenFrom Rare Bird Alert

Further news on the numbers of birds that die each year colliding with buildings.

About one billion birds are killed every year when they unwittingly fly into human-made objects such as buildings with reflective windows. Such collisions are the largest unintended human cause of bird deaths worldwide—and they are a serious concern for conservationists.

A study published in June finds that, as one might suspect, smaller buildings cause fewer bird deaths than do bigger buildings. But the research team of about 60 also found that larger buildings in rural areas pose a greater threat to birds than if those same-sized buildings were located in an urban area.

The research team monitored 300 buildings of varying size and environmental surroundings for bird mortality at 40 college and university campuses in North America in the autumn of 2014. This included six buildings on the University of Washington’s Seattle campus. They designed a standardised monitoring protocol so that the field crews documented bird mortality uniformly. In all, they documented 324 bird carcasses of 41 species. At each site, somewhere between zero and 34 birds met their feathery demise.

Ovenbird. Photo by Mick Dryden

“Consistent with previous studies, we found that building size had a strong positive effect on bird-window collision mortality,” Hager and team wrote in a statement about the continent-wide research. “But the strength of the effect on mortality depended on regional urbanisation.”

Why is that? The researchers think it might be related to how birds select habitats during migration, and differences in bird behaviour between urban and rural populations. For example, they write, forest-adapted birds often select rural habitats with lots of open space and fairly few impervious surfaces over more urban areas.

Lighting patterns may also play a part, they reason. Lights from large, low-rise buildings in rural areas may act to attract migrating birds in what the team dubbed a “large-scale beacon effect,” where this effect may be “more diluted among large buildings in urban areas.”

Another theory is that urban birds may actually learn from “non-fatal” collisions and gain “new anti-collision behaviours” that help them avoid colliding with windows in urban areas. Previous research, they note, “suggests that the relatively large brain size in birds makes them primed for learning.”

The results suggest, the authors write, that measures taken to prevent bird collisions “should be prioritised at large buildings in regions of low urbanisation.”

The paper Continent-wide analysis of how urbanization affects bird-window collision mortality in North America, Biological Conservation can be seen here

Rufous hummingbird. Photo by Mick Dryden

 

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