Birds have friends in the Department of Economics. Over the spring-summer term, the department made good on the friendship by making the patio at Max Gluskin House better for birds.
The recent retrofit saw bird safe markers installed on the lounge windows. Essentially giant stickers applied to the outside surface of the glass, the markers are a grid formation of dots. This treatment pattern breaks up reflections on the glass and makes the windows visible to birds so they can avoid collisions. The product itself is called Feather Friendly. The markers are on the windows that look out onto the patio and all along the courtyard side of the glass corridor that connects the two wings of the building. Completed in two phases, contractors did the work during May and July.
While no one knows exactly how many feathered friends have been lost over the years, bird deaths due to window collisions were a reality at the Department of Economics and the situation was not unique to the University of Toronto.
“There has never been a consistent survey performed on campus, so I can’t accurately comment on the scale of the problem,” said Carly Davenport, co-creator of BirdSafe UofT, a volunteer effort that records bird collisions at the university. “Since BirdSafe UofT was created in 2022, we have documented over 80 collisions, but bear in mind, that is from four volunteers going out a few times a week and making incidental reports, so, again, there is not sufficient coverage to make an accurate comment on the scale of the problem.”
In February 2022 bird collisions prompted one graduate student, Vanya Georgieva, to raise her concerns with Chair Ettore Damiano and Robert MacMillian, Associate Chair of Graduate Studies.
“One way to make our building more bird-friendly is to place small markers (stickers) in a 2-inch grid,” Georgieva wrote in her email to Professors Damiano and MacMillian. She went on to reference the best practices outlined by the City of Toronto to prevent bird collisions.
The staff team immediately assembled, took the information, and went to work on finding out more.
After department management made the decision to go with the grid pattern of dots, Property Manager Saurabh Mallik reached out to the bird protection organization Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP). A FLAP representative recommended Feather Friendly as a proven measure to reduce and even curb bird deaths. BirdSafe UofT is FLAP’s program on the St. George Campus.
If the solution was so easy for the team to find, why did it take more than a year between Georgieva’s email, and departmental agreement, to realize the retrofit? Money. As chair, Professor Damiano had to find almost $16,000 in the departmental budget to fund the markers. This pushed completion of the project to 2023.
“Bird deaths had upset me too,” Damiano said. “Once we knew something could be done, we had to do it!”
The cost can be a barrier to further retrofits across campus. As a result, the Max Gluskin House courtyard is a rare example of reimagined, bird-friendly spaces at the university.
“The retrofit of Max Gluskin House is one of the few partial bird-friendly glass building retrofits on campus. Others off the top of my head are the Faculty Club patio and the Galbraith bridge,” BirdSafe UofT’s Davenport said. “The cost for labour and machinery required to install Feather Friendly bird-friendly window treatments can be substantial, depending on the logistics of the building. The product, however, is reasonably inexpensive compared to other glazing films used for UV or energy efficiency. The cost of retrofits is something that needs to be budgeted for.”
While there remains much more to do to make the St. George Campus safer for birds, the retrofit at Max Gluskin House is a step in the right direction.
“I was looking for a way to have a positive environmental impact in my own community,” Georgieva said “Now, when I go through the courtyard, I’m reminded that I’ve contributed to a cause. It just goes to show that if you want to see a change, it doesn’t hurt to ask.”
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