Library's windows not for the birds

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By KEN TRAINOR

? Walls of windows at library and middle schools prove deadly for migrating birds. Here are possible solutions.

Migration season is over. Thank God, if you're a bird. From March through early June and again from late August to early November, birds are on the move. A lot of birds?#34;and a lot of them are dying en route.

Bird experts estimate that cats alone kill 100 million birds a year. But that pales compared with crashing into windows. No hard statistics are available, but estimates range from 100 million to a billion?#34;in this country, every year.

There are two main trouble times for birds when it comes to windows ... night and day. At night, they are drawn by building lights. During the day, the reflections of trees off the windows confuses them. It happens with any large building, but the Oak Park building with the most prominent bank of windows happens to be the beautiful new public library, whose distinctive bank of east-facing windows is a delight to passersby?#34;and sudden death for birds.

During migration season, dead birds can be found on the ground along the plaza fronting Scoville Park. The library estimates an average of 2-3 a day during the migration seasons, but the count can reach double figures.

The issue was publicly raised in a letter to the editor in WEDNESDAY JOURNAL back in June.

In response, Jim Madigan, library assistant director, asked a staff member?#34;and serious birder?#34;to do some research and presented the board with a 30-page packet of information on the issue gleaned from various Internet sources.

There was discussion, but no action taken by the board, Madigan said, though the library does take the matter seriously.

"It's a big deal for us," Madigan said. "We are concerned about it."

It wasn't an issue with the old building, which wasn't as tall for one thing, and the lights weren't on as much after hours. Now that the library has privatized its custodial services, and because the building is a heck of a lot bigger, it's cleaned at night after hours, which means the lights stay on.

They do try to dim them, however, Madigan said, as much out of consideration for the condo neighbors to the north as for the birds. "We don't have all the lights on after 9 p.m.," he said.

As for daytime, the key seems to be breaking up the reflection off the glass. Some have tried putting bird silhouettes on windows, including Percy Julian Middle School, which turned it into a student art project last spring.

Fine arts teacher Christine Worley said several teachers and students noticed dead birds visible from the classrooms on the lower rooftops of the new, and much larger, Julian building. The worst place seemed to be the rooftops over the entrances to the building, which have glass walls.

Worley's eighth-grade fine arts class did research on various birds of prey and created life size silhouettes out of cling vinyl. She thinks they did the trick, and doubled as an attractive decoration from the inside.

But only one "bird" survived the summer cleaning, Worley said, so they'll have to repeat the project this spring.
According to the Internet information that Madigan compiled, however, the effectiveness of silhouettes is questionable. More effective, experts say, is a more elaborate "screen" visible from the outside, but not from the inside, similar to advertisements that encase some buses.

But not exactly what taxpayers probably want to see encasing their gorgeous new library.

"It's all relative," Madigan said. "You should see the carnage downtown [in the Loop]."

True enough, said Robbie Hunsinger, a musician by trade and bird rescuer by passion. Three years ago, she started the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors Program, which works with the city (which sponsors the "Lights Out" program for large buildings) and the Chicago Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) to reduce the number of bird casualties in the Loop. She and 30 or so dedicated volunteers get up in the wee hours and drive through downtown, looking for stunned birds, which they bring to a local nature center for rehab and release. She estimates they saved some 300 birds this year. Most stunned birds die of concussions. The damage can sometimes be reversed with a shot of cortisone that reduces the brain swelling.

She has a hotline (773/988-1867) for those who find injured birds and want to help. She suggests putting them in a brown paper sack, closing it, and taking it to either the Fox Valley or Willowbrook nature centers.

Locally, of course, Trailside Museum at Chicago and Thatcher in River Forest, does what it can to rehab injured animals, including birds. Director Jim Chelsvig said he hasn't seen an upswing in injured birds since the new library opened. They handle up to 2,000 injured animals a year, he estimates, of which roughly half are birds, many of them brought in by Chicago Animal Control.

In terms of solutions, Hunsinger said, dimming lights is the most effective, and anything that breaks up the reflection off the windows during the day. Mobiles would be preferable to static silhouettes. And local volunteer rescue groups can be organized.

"I would be thrilled to help train any group in Oak Park," she said. "It's a problem that can be solved."

Those interested can reach the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors through the hotline listed above. Their website is www.birdmonitors.net.

Contact: ktrainor@wjinc.com

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