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Northwestern’s new 415,000-square-foot glass building, the Kellogg Global Hub, provides an interior space where students, faculty, and researchers from the Kellogg School of Management and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences economics program can meet and collaborate. This is a great educational building; one can feel the energy immediately upon entering.

The exterior, however, is a different story. Its opening in March 2017 coincided with spring bird migration along the lake. Allison Sloan, of Bird Friendly Evanston, monitored the building from May 13 to May 31. “I found 80 birds of 29 different species who had been killed or injured by slamming into the windows and glass railings during only a two and a half week period,” she lamented. “The glass is so reflective that the birds aim for the mirror images of the lakeshore, sky and surrounding landscape.”

Unfortunately, Kellogg wasn’t the only building of concern. Northwestern’s Searle building, at the north end of campus, had been killing birds since its construction in 1972. Other buildings on campus were also responsible, according to data from surveys conducted by Evanston North Shore Bird Club in the early 2000s.

A Major Flyway
The glass in Evanston building designs is a problem because the lakefront is part of a major flyway used by many migratory birds. They take shelter, rest, and refuel along the lakefront from their long flights from Central and South America in spring or from Canada in the fall. Migrating songbirds are the group most frequently affected by window collisions. They are unfamiliar with our glass structures. Glass windows here reflect the trees and bushes of our landscape and look like a safe haven to them. They head for the reflections and collide with the glass. A scientific study published in 2014 estimated that up to one billion birds a year are likely killed by window collisions.

 Ms. Sloan and this author, who has been concerned for years about Northwestern’s glass buildings on the lake, were quick to contact Alan Anderson, the university’s Executive Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations, and say “No more!” Mr. Anderson responded, “Our goal is to be a good partner and neighbor, so let’s work together to figure this out.” 

NU’s Glass: for the Birds
Mr. Anderson contacted Vice President of Facilities Management John D’Angelo. Northwestern responded that instead of a reputation for killing birds, it wanted to become the country’s premier university site for bird-friendly buildings. NU called in Christine Sheppard, Director of the Glass Collisions Program for the American Bird Conservancy. They asked her to survey the campus and provide a report on how campus buildings should be treated with window films or other alternatives, so that birds would recognize their glass facades and avoid them.

 In recent months, Northwestern has added window film to Searle. Ms Sloan said, “The effect was immediate. There was a sharp decline in the number of bird strikes at Searle.” Continued monitoring will hopefully show a decline in collisions with the building’s reflective windows over future seasons. Northwestern is testing another film at Kellogg’s Global Hub and the new Walter Athletics Center and Ryan Fieldhouse on the lake includes a dot pattern on the glass to deter birds. Previously, they had included bird-safe glass on two parking garages.

 The treatments are visible from inside the buildings but are not obtrusive, and human occupants quickly get used to the change.  An Evanston subgroup of Chicago Bird Collision has been monitoring the campus daily. They will continue to collect data on what is working and to identify problem buildings that need to
be addressed.

 Northwestern’s leadership demonstrates how much could be done in the larger sphere of Evanston to reduce unnecessary bird deaths. Migrating birds do not just stop at the lakefront; during the day, they spread inland throughout Evanston.

Evanston Can Be a Leader
Bird Friendly Evanston, a community effort, has met with developers to encourage bird-friendly window treatments in new Evanston construction. The group has met with Evanston’s Environment Board, which has endorsed the concept of developing an ordinance for bird-friendly requirements for all new construction in Evanston.

 A City ordinance would give developers the tool they need to design bird-safe buildings and provide certainty in the development process. The Bird Friendly Evanston group has been supported by Bird Conservation Network, the Evanston North Shore Bird Club, Citizens’ Greener Evanston/Natural Habitat Evanston, and Chicago Bird Collision Monitors.

Dimming Lights at Night
Since many bird species migrate at night, lights during migration also lure birds to collide with glass.  Bird Friendly Evanston would like to see lights in tall Evanston buildings and or near the lakeshore dimmed from dusk through dawn during migration, following the example of the Lights Out program in Chicago. Bird Friendly Evanston is also reaching out to residents and businesses to take voluntary steps to reduce unnecessary lighting to save money and birds.

 The American Bird Conservancy’s Ms. Sheppard says of Northwestern’s efforts, “In the last few years, awareness of bird mortality from collisions has grown and there have been monitoring and remediation projects on many campuses. Northwestern’s pledge to make their entire campus bird-friendly is unprecedented, however, and a very welcome example that we hope many others will follow.”

Getting Involved

Anyone who would like to get involved in the efforts of Bird Friendly Evanston may reach out to Habitat@NaturalHabitatEvanston.org  or info@ensbc.org. People can help the spring monitoring effort at Northwestern. Volunteers are needed for morning monitoring and transport of injured birds from mid-March to June. To volunteer to monitor, contact: info@birdmonitors.net.                                                                                             Anyone wishing to report a dead or injured bird on campus or downtown may call the Chicago Bird Collision Monitor’s Hotline, 773 988-1867.

Libby Hill

Libby Hill is the author of "The Chicago River: a Natural and Unnatural History. She has been writing about birds and trees and Evanston's natural history for the Roundtable since 2004.