Migratory birds need the kind of thinking present in the seventies.
In 1976, Ontario’s lawmakers tried to fix a problem. They passed a law hoping to reduce injuries and deaths of a species that was in danger. To enforce the law, Ontario levied fines against anyone caught flouting it. Steps were taken to protect the most vulnerable members of the species. Thirty-six years later, many lives have been saved and many injuries lessened or prevented.
In Toronto, there are other species — including species at risk — that need our help. The problem involves migratory birds and it involves you and me. Every winter, these birds fly south to escape our cold and return in the spring to mate. There have always been obstacles along that journey, only now the Toronto skyline is full of obstacles whose surfaces reflect the sky or trees — otherwise safe places for birds to fly into.
Buildings with reflective windows are a particular problem for migratory birds. Magnolia Warblers, dark-eyed Juncos and the other birds passing through Toronto get confused by the reflections of blue skies and trees in windows. We know this because the volunteers at the Fatal Light Awareness Program spend their mornings collecting dead or injured birds from the base of these buildings during migration season.
Toronto’s Bird-Friendly Development Guidelines present specific solutions to reduce bird mortality. The Town of Markham followed the city’s advice and reduced the number of bird strikes at one of their buildings.
What we do in cities is important to the natural environment. Migratory birds help to keep insects under control so that agricultural and timber products are protected. Without birds, farmers and logging companies would have to spend more on pesticides — pesticides that pose serious health risks to adults and children. Birds are also vital to dispersing seeds and pollinating plants.
At the beginning of this post I told you about how the Ontario government reduced the injuries and deaths of a species that was in danger. The species was humans — anyone who travels in a car — and the solution was a mandatory seatbelt law.
Thirty-six years ago, fastening your seatbelt was an afterthought. Now it’s instinctive to pull a seatbelt across your body to protect yourself in case of an accident. Wearing a seatbelt increases your chances of surviving a collision, so you do it.
Building owners and property managers need to adopt a seatbelt solution to the problem of migratory birds. Toronto’s guidelines encourage them to put visual markers on the windows of the first 12 metres of a building. Birds only fly so high after all. These markers will improve the odds of migratory birds surviving their annual journeys across thousands of kilometres from their wintering to summering grounds and back.
We need action.