Thousands of birds that died in collisions with buildings on display

TORONTO – A museum exhibit featuring the corpses of thousands of birds killed while travelling Toronto’s skies is meant to raise awareness of the perils facing the city’s feathered residents, organizers said Thursday.

More than 2,400 dead birds from 91 different species are currently on display at the Royal Ontario Museum.

The annual exhibit was mounted in conjunction with the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), a group that argues reflective windows and other features of the city skyline pose grave threats to the avian population.

Michael Mesure, co-founder and executive director of FLAP, said the display sends a powerful message.

“It’s a very revealing moment because it acts as a constant reminder of the problem and you’re not even seeing the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Mesure said about a million birds are killed each year after colliding with city structures.

He attributed many of the fatalities to reflective windows, which keep skies visible and fool birds into believing they have a clear path ahead of them.

“It’s a tragedy,” said Mesure. “These birds are simply passing through the region.”

FLAP donated about half of the bodies currently on display at the ROM, which has been mounting a similar exhibit each year since 2008.

Dave Ireland, managing director of the museum’s biodiversity programs, said the organizations share similar ideals.

“The number of birds hitting buildings is not decreasing and we support FLAP’s call to action,” he said.

Mark Peck, ornithology technician at the ROM, says that several of the birds on display belong to at risk species such as Canada warblers, whippoorwills, and chimney swifts.

Other endangered birds include the kinglet species, ovenbirds, white-throated sparrows and ruby-throated hummingbirds are all common victims of collisions.

(Ruby-throated hummingbirds) don’t lay many eggs and have a high mortality rate, but Peck said reflective glass exacerbates an already tenuous situation for the birds.

The latest exhibit is being mounted one month after one of the city’s real estate giants found themselves in court over the issue of reflective glass.

Cadillac Fairview was acquitted of a raft of charges after allegations that 800 birds died over a nine-month span in 2010 after colliding with windows at the company’s downtown properties.

An Ontario judge cleared the company after ruling it had done due diligence in trying to rectify the problem, including applying film on windows of its Yonge Corporate Centre.

The ruling has opened the door to broader regulations governing the emission of reflected light, and Mesure said this gives him hope for the future.

“I can see it becoming like the smoking laws because it will become socially unacceptable (to keep emitting reflective light),” Mesure said.