ASG petition aims to save birds from campus window collisions


Seeger Gray/Daily Senior Staffer

Mudd Library’s large windows pose a threat to migrating birds. An ASG petition calls on the University to reduce the building’s risk of collisions.

Seeger Gray, Sports Photo Editor

All-glass buildings may be a contemporary architect’s dream, but for migratory birds, they’re an invisible threat. 

Associated Student Government’s Sustainability Committee hopes to address that threat with its “Petition to Make Mudd Library Bird Safe.” Created in October, the document calls on Northwestern to apply patterned plastic film on windows at Mudd Science and Engineering Library, the site of more than 14% of annual bird deaths and injuries on campus, according to data from Chicago Bird Collision Monitors.

The petition had 561 signatures as of Monday, according to Weinberg junior Vlad Nevirkovets, a member of the Sustainability Committee’s Green Campus Subcommittee. The subcommittee has promoted the petition with flyers around campus and on social media.

Nevirkovets said the committee is currently writing ASG Senate legislation to officially call for the University to fund plastic film for Mudd’s lake-facing windows.

Communication freshman Madeline King signed the petition after seeing it in multiple student group chats.

“I’m passionate about the environment, and I care a lot about preservation, so I thought it was a good idea,” King said. “I hope it inspires the University to take action in other areas as well.”

When migratory birds encounter buildings with large windows and see trees or the lake in the reflection, they don’t realize there’s a solid object in their way, according to CBCM Director Annette Prince. 

She added that the petition estimate of “over 700 birds” injured or killed by on-campus collisions annually is just “the tip of an iceberg,” as the number only includes the birds reported to CBCM or found by volunteers. 

“We know that we don’t get to everything,” Prince said.

In addition to harming individual birds, Prince said collisions can threaten the survival of entire migratory species.

Prince said patterned plastic film aims to reduce bird collisions with subtle patterns dense enough to discourage birds from trying to fly through the gaps. NU applied plastic film to the Frances Searle Building between fall 2017 and spring 2018 and to the Kellogg Global Hub between spring and fall 2018. CBCM data shows the films have reduced bird collisions. 

A concrete building with angled windows. There is a subtle striped pattern on the windows.
Striped film on the windows of Frances Searle. Chicago Bird Collision Monitors found 56 birds injured or killed by collisions with the building in 2017. In 2018, after the film was applied, the group only found five birds injured or killed. (Seeger Gray/Daily Senior Staffer)
A large building covered in windows. A window in the foreground has a dotted covering.
Dotted film partially covers the windows of the Kellogg Global Hub. Though the massive glass building remains the single-largest hotspot for bird collisions on campus, Chicago Bird Collision Monitors data found a 30% decrease in birds injured or killed after the film was applied, from 393 birds in fall 2017 and spring 2018 to 273 birds in fall 2018 and spring 2019. (Seeger Gray/Daily Senior Staffer)

City Council adopted a “Bird Friendly Building Design Ordinance” in September, which proposed new buildings adopt measures such as plastic film on windows to reduce their risk to birds. But Judy Pollock, president of the Chicago Audubon Society and member of Bird-Friendly Evanston, told The Daily before the ordinance passed that some of Evanston’s most dangerous buildings for birds were built on campus.

Nevirkovets said he got the idea for the petition from local advocates he met at the Evanston North Shore Bird Club. He emphasized that Evanston birders have previously pressured NU to implement bird safety measures, but he felt that showing student support would make University administration take their concerns more seriously.

“The reason that I joined ASG in the first place was to try and promote this initiative,” Nevirkovets said.

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Twitter: @seegergray

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