The Bird Mortality Study

This page is an ongoing collection of student work and reflections on the Bird Mortality Project being conducted by UL Lafayette students in BIOL111 lecture for biology majors. Scroll down for older contributions.

The following is student Cung Thang’s summary of the Spring 2018 season of the Bird Mortality Project.

For the bird mortality study, we came together as a class to provide data for a study which investigated a possible explanation for bird deaths that Dr. Griffard introduced early in the beginning of the semester. A continuation of a study that had been started in the previous semester, we wanted to see if there was a potential correlation between the reflective nature of tall buildings with glass windows and birds. After people noticed that dead birds had been found on the side of buildings such as these, it was proposed that perhaps the birds mistook the clear reflections of the glass windows for clear sky and thus flew into their deaths.

As a group, we split up into teams of 2-3 people and each chose specific days to walk the perimeter of the Wharton Hall building and check all 4 of its stairwells for any signs of bird carcasses. In my team was Hannah Corley and Nadia Turki. Together, we canvassed the area every wednesday after noon. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any birds other than the ones previous groups had documented but were not yet collected.

Of the instances where birds were found, the first bird of Spring 2018 was located outside near the back window of Wharton Hall. This bird was discovered by Jenna and Kelsey on February 2, 2018 and it was very old and damaged. It looked as if it had been scavenged and as such, we couldn’t find any evidence as to helping determine what species it might have been or even its age. The next bird was discovered on February 23, 2018 by Jenna and Kelsey as well. This time, the bird was located under the stairwell of Wharton Hall where it meets Our Lady of Wisdom. Although this bird was in far better shape than the previous one, Jenna and Kelsey were unable to get close enough to identify any specific characteristics that might give away its age, species, or gender. The third and last bird found was on March 9, 2018 again by Jenna and Kelsey. This time, it was in the grass behind the stairs where Wharton Hall meets St. Mary. This was perhaps the most salvaged specimen yet again the age nor species could be distinguished.

Whenever my group went to look for birds, we scoured the thick bushes, looked in the nooks and crannies, and tried to come up with any ideas as to where a dead bird might land. On days where the weather was harsh such as rainy or windy and cold, our theories changed of course. Despite all our ideas, we could not find any birds. This sentiment was shared by the other majority of our bird mortality study group and we felt even lucky to be able to find 3 birds all semester. At first we figured birds would be dropping left and right since it seems like a plausible idea that they’d get confused by a reflective window, an idea no doubt formulated after seeing countless videos of cute pets surprised at their own reflections in the mirrors, yet this was clearly not the case.

One issue we had when conducting the survey was ensuring to not recount another bird that had been previously documented. Being that Louisiana laws restrict and regulate the handling of dead bird carcasses, we had to inform the right individuals of the birds we found as we couldn’t pick them up ourselves. Nadia told me a story of how she learned about the circumstances of these laws when she recounted how one of her roommates kept two dead birds in her fridge. Another potential complication of our experiment was if another species such as a cat picked up the dead bird and moved it around. Being that the carcasses looked scavenged, it was highly probable that two halves of a single bird could’ve been mistaken for individual birds had they been placed apart. Furthermore, it could’ve been possible that a significant amount of birds did fly into the windows and die, yet we never found them since they were picked up by another animal before we got to searching for them.

Being that Louisiana is home to a diverse population of birds such as a variety of woodpeckers, sparrows, and warblers, it’s interesting to note how our birds all looked like they had a black coat of feathers. Further evaluation of this may allow us to group them into scientific organization, perhaps even permitting us to construct a phylogenetic tree with clades. Seeing as how we only found four bird carcasses over a span of about 4 months, this experiment certainly did not constitute any need for further scientific study or research, at least not in a small city such as Lafayette. In order to test this hypothesis of bird mortality well, researchers would have to go to a place where skyscrapers and tall glass buildings are much more common. Birds like to fly high up, often reaching altitudes matching airplanes, seen in instances such as when they fly into the engines and often cause issues there.