Library hopes bird silhouettes will prevent window crashes

Large windows are lovely for patrons, deadly to birds

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The large, cardboard-cutout birds on the east windows of the Oak Park Public Library, along with the stacks of books and inspirational quotes painted colorfully across the walls make the main library somewhat reminiscent of an elementary school. But those bird cutouts are no art project. In fact, they've been strategically placed in an effort to keep real birds from accidentally flying into the windows.

Paul Oppenheim, a member of the Oak Park Runners club, said he would often see dead or hurt birds on the grounds near the library when he was out for his morning run during migration season. Library officials put up the bird silhouettes in response to Oppenheim and other community members' concerns about migrating birds that were stunned or killed after flying into the reflective windows. In March, library staffer Edward O'Brien, an avid bird watcher himself, attended the Birds and Buildings: Creating a Safer Environment conference held at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

The birds, which annually migrate north to Wisconsin and Canada during April and May and south again from August through October, often encounter problems with tall buildings in cities such as Chicago.

According to the Birds and Buildings Forum, a group dedicated to raising awareness about bird collisions and educating building managers and architects on how to make their buildings more bird-friendly, there are several ways that birds can be harmed by buildings. Sometimes, birds think that clear glass is air and try to fly through it. Windows can also reflect surrounding trees or the clouds, making it hard for the birds to realize that they are actually flying into a building.

"Birds can't see glass," said O'Brien. "Nothing in their evolutionary makeup has given them a stragegy to deal with it."

Oftentimes, birds are attracted to the east side of the library because the windows reflect Scoville Park, and the birds fly there thinking they are flying toward grass and trees, said O'Brien.

Randi Doeker, the founding director of the Birds and Buildings Forum in Chicago, said that birds will not avoid the silhouettes because they look like other birds. Rather the birds avoid the silhouettes because to them, the silhouettes appear as an obstacle in the way of the path. The key, Doeker said, is to put up enough silhouettes.

"A bird will fly through any space that is smaller than a handprint," she said, nothing that there are other ways to deter birds, such as screens and shades. "The key is to find a pleasing design that works for you."

O'Brien said the library's silhouettes should break up the reflectivity pattern, making the reflection of the park less appealing to birds. He said that he hopes to put more silhouettes in the windows in the future.

Bright light is also a danger for birds because they are attacted to the light at night. According to literature provided on the Birds and Buildings Forum website, long-term scientific research at Chicago's McCormick Place convention center shows that there is an 80 percent reduction in bird fatalities when the lights are turned out.

In a press release, the library said officials were experimenting with various shade levels at night. The library lights closest to the windows are turned off after the library closes, but they can't go completely dark after closing as the maintenance crews are working during the night and need light to finish their jobs.

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