Meet your Neighbour: Brendon Samuels works to save our 'feathered friends'
PhD student in the Department of Biology at Western University, Brendon Samuels (Source: Brendon Samuels)
LONDON, ONT. -- Spring is (almost) in the air and the sound of birds chirping has us feeling like the nicer weather is on its way. In order to keep our feathered friends singing, Brendon Samuels spends his time studying how to keep them safe.
Samuels, a PhD student in the Department of Biology at Western University studies the factors that contribute to the risk of birds flying into windows on buildings.
"My research focusses on interactions between birds' visual sensitivity, behaviour and structural properties of glass windows," says Samuels.
With an interest in developing better tools to help with preventing collisions and understanding how birds detect and avoid crashing into glass, Samuels says he researches field studies of real buildings, citizen science, and behavioural experiments with captive birds.
How does someone become interested in this type of research?
"I've always had an interest in animals, especially around trying to understand how animals experience their world. The senses and cognitive abilities of animals are in some ways quite similar to those of humans."
Samuels became aware of birds colliding with windows when he volunteered with Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) Canada in Toronto.
"They really opened my eyes to how devastating window collisions are for birds, and for people who care for birds who bear witness to their problem."
Just how big is this problem?
"In North America, it's been estimated collisions with windows kill hundreds of millions to over a billion birds each year, with around 25 million bird deaths in Canada each year."
Of course, that's just an estimate as some birds fly away after hitting a window only to die later from their injuries leaving it undocumented. Also, a bird dying during breeding season doesn't only affect that one bird. If the parent doesn't make it back to the nest, indirect deaths can occur due to their young not being fed during a critical time in their lives.
"There does seem to be certain species at are especially high risk, so called "supercolliders" like White-Throated Sparrows, Ovenbirds, Song Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos."
So how can we help?
Although the recent pandemic has interrupted his research, Samuels did say they are designing a new method for testing the electiveness of glass treatments in order to prevent collisions.
"From our pilot tests so far, I can say that putting a sticker or two up on your window is not an effective technique for preventing a collision. When we tried this in our experiment (using a lightweight plastic film birds can safely bounce off of instead of real glass) we found that birds would just avoid the stickers and fly through where they see an opening."
Treating windows for bird safety is what is most important. Providing edge to edge coverage, making sure not to leave gaps wider than two inches is most effective.
For now, Samuels says the public has a 'huge role' to play in helping.
"You can add small dots or lines on the glass using a marker or tape, or hang pieces of string outside of the window spaced four inches apart."
For those who feed birds at home, it is recommended that feeders are placed within three feet from windows.
It is also important to know what to do if a bird does hit your window.
Samuel says, "…make sure you know what to do to help improve its odds of survival: capture the bird right away, contain it in a paper bag or box in a safe, warm, quiet space, and transfer it to your nearest wildlife rehabilitator to be checked out ASAP."
A helpful guide provided by Samuel can be found on the City of London's website.
You can also help by reporting the collision for data to be collected for research. iNaturalist.ca allows the public to report bird-window collisions within London and surrounding areas.
Samuels is working with the City of London to develop their Bird-Friendly Skies program and is hopeful that all new site plans in London will require the use of bird-friendly glass.
"Myself and FLAP Canada have also been advocating for the Province of Ontario to incorporate the Canadian Standards Association (CSA 2019) Bird Friendly Building Design Standard into the Ontario Building Code."
Their petition, which you can sign here, is quickly approaching 15,000 signatures.
For those interested birds and nature within the Forest City, you can follow Samuels' work on Twitter.