Birds in Jeopardy: Lake Shore Campus Buildings Pose Threat


Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus (LSC) is a hub of life for both students and wildlife, particularly birds. But several buildings on campus are prone to bird collisions, meaning many birds are either killed or seriously injured almost daily during migration season, according to Dr. Reuben Keller, a professor at Loyola’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability (IES).

The Loyola Information Commons (IC), Sullivan Center, Norville Athletic Center, Damen Student Center and the glass archway connecting Alfie Norville Practice Facility and Norville have large east-facing glass panels which results in a high amount of bird collisions, Keller said. 

From March through May and September through November, birds migrate using the shore of Lake Michigan as a guide, which means hundreds of birds end up stopping to take a rest on campus, according to Keller. Some common species that can be found on campus are magnolia warblers, ruby-throated hummingbirds and belted kingfishers, Keller said. 

In the spring, birds fly north to breeding grounds in Canada, while in the fall they fly south to escape the cold, following the shoreline both ways, he said. 

Keller worked with a student-run organization called Student Operation for Avian Relief (SOAR) which coordinated with the school’s facilities department  — in charge of building maintenance and care on Loyola’s campuses — to help reduce collisions, The Phoenix reported

SOAR, started in 2012, was originally a group of student volunteers from Keller’s classes. SOAR is currently run by students from classes taught by Professor the Rev. Stephen Mitten, S.J., a professor of ornithology — the study of birds — at the IES. All students are required to sign up for at least one shift during the fall or spring migration season, Mitten said. 

Mitten’s students visit high-risk buildings in the morning to collect, identify and catalogue the dead birds. Injured birds are sent to the Willowbrook Wildlife Center — located in the suburb of Glen Ellyn — for rehabilitation, while dead birds are sent to the Field Museum at the end of the semester. The Field Museum uses the birds for research and adds them to their collection, according to its website.

Companies now manufacture glass with pre-made markings to prevent bird collisions, but pre-existing windows can be retrofitted with film decals that have the same effect, according to the American Bird Conservancy, a non-profit organization for bird preservation. 

SOAR’s work resulted in the IC and Sullivan lowering their blinds during peak migration hours at dusk, and the placement of decals to prevent collisions on Norville’s windows, Keller said. 

This resulted in the number of dead birds collected to drop significantly at the IC, Norville and Sullivan — only a few every migration season, Keller said. 

Although steps have been taken, Keller said Loyola still needs to do more to be responsible.

The Damen Student Center — built in 2013 — and the glass archway between Norville and Alfie Norville still remain the biggest threats to migrating birds on campus, according to Keller. It’s unknown if the Alfie — a recent addition that opened in fall of 2019 — was built with any bird collision prevention. 

“[Damen] is as bad, if not worse than the IC ever was, with 70 to 110 dead birds every migration,” Keller said. 

So far this semester, the group has collected at least 50 dead birds.

Riley Miller, a sophomore environmental policy major, is one of Mitten’s students and a volunteer who looks for dead and injured birds. On Sept. 26, he found six dead birds — one at Mertz Residence Hall, two at Norville and three at the Damen/Halas complex. 

“[Damen] is the real problem area,” the 21-year-old said. “We find most of the birds around here.”

Since SOAR began in 2012, 1,006 dead birds have been catalogued from more than 35 different species, according to Mitten. Of the 1,006 birds, 609 of them have come from the Damen/Halas area alone, Mitten said. 

Of the species found dead on campus, one is categorized as near-threatened and 11 are categorized as having decreasing populations, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) website — an organization for the preservation of nature and use of sustainable resources. 

Species categorized as near-threatened may become threatened with extinction in the near future, but don’t meet current criteria set by the IUCN, according to their website. 

Mitten said the actual number is probably higher. 

Not all birds die on impact, meaning some can fly away and succumb to their injuries in places that students won’t find them, Mitten said. 

Keller said in the past he talked to Loyola’s facilities department about putting film decals on the windows in Damen and the archway, but nothing has been done, he said. Facilities was first alerted to the issue in fall of 2014, according to Keller. 

Kana Henning, associate vice president for facilities at Loyola, said her department is considering placing a film on the glass to help the issue, but no film has been put up yet.

“[Facilities] has to make sure that it’s the right film … that it doesn’t change the designs of the facade,” Henning said. 

It’s unknown when a final decision will be made on how to fix the problem at Damen, Henning said. 

Options will also be considered for the glass walkway between the Alfie and Norville if it becomes an issue, Henning said.

Northwestern University — located along the lake shore in Evanston — has had similar problems, but announced in 2018 the placement of decals on problematic buildings and the incorporation of bird-friendly glass in future construction, The Daily Northwestern, the university’s student newspaper, reported. 

Despite the high number of bird deaths, some Loyola students said they were unaware of the problem.

“I didn’t know that was an issue,” Yashika Shekhar, a 21-year-old senior studying biochemistry, said. “I remember seeing some [dead birds] last year but I didn’t know why it happened.”

Other students are working to make a change.

Mackenzie Roof, a 22-year-old senior studying environmental science and environmental policy, is working on an advocacy campaign to get the administration to place window protections on the Damen windows and the glass walkway. 

“[Placing decals] has been talked about for a long time … but there’s been no action,” Roof said. “We are working on a petition and a formal proposal for why this is important.”

The lack of action is contrary to Loyola’s Jesuit values and commitment to sustainability, Roof said. 

“[Birds] are flying thousands and thousands of miles … to die on our campus,” Roof said. “The students will no longer accept that.”

A study published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in April 2019 revealed that Chicago is the most dangerous city for migrating birds. A separate study published Sept. 19, also by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, revealed that in the past 50 years, North America has lost around three billion birds. 

Keller is also involved with many local birding organizations to push for a Chicago city ordinance that would make buildings safer for birds, however it’s still being reviewed by the City Council’s Committee on Health and Environmental Protection, according to the Chicago City Clerk’s website — responsible for record keeping.

The city currently promotes a Lights Out program, where buildings voluntarily dim their lights to help reduce bird collisions during migration season, according to their website

Seniors Audrey Sferra and Marina Gonzalez, both 21-year-old environmental engineering majors, were walking near the Alfie Norville Practice Facility on Sept. 30 at 6 p.m. when they discovered an injured bird underneath the glass walkway between Norville and Alfie Norville. 

Gonzalez said she discovered the bird sitting in the middle of the pathway not moving. 

“We knew he was alive … we didn’t want him to get run over,” Gonzalez said. 

It’s unclear if the bird was injured by a collision with the glass walkway. Authorities arrived shortly to take the bird to a treatment facility. 

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