Since 1970, North American bird populations have plummeted by nearly 30%1 - a particularly alarming figure given that birds are essential for human and environmental health and wellness, providing pest control, pollination, seed propagation, and adding cultural and economic value. In the Fall of 2020 alone, over 1,000 birds were found dead after they flew into buildings and skyscrapers across Philadelphia2, in part due to Philadelphia’s central location along the “Atlantic Flyway,” a common migration route for over 500 different species of birds.3 When these migratory birds encounter the unfamiliar urban landscape, they’re often unable to recognize the see-through and sky-reflecting glass of urban buildings, crashing into them at fatal speeds.
Today, members of the Penn student body, faculty, and staff are working together to make Penn’s campus more environmentally conscious by reducing the number of bird strikes as part of Bird-Friendly Penn. This initiative is spearheaded by the FRES Landscape Architecture Group in partnership with Audubon Mid-Atlantic, Bird-Safe Philly, and Penn Sustainability. Ongoing research is being conducted to document the frequency and location of campus bird strikes, and novel solutions to integrate bird-friendly technology into building architecture, such as UV reflective coatings, are being tested.
Outreach materials such as a logo, lawn signs, and brochures were created through a partnership between Colleagues in the Stuart Weitzman School of Design.
Bird Aware Penn
Bird Aware Penn brings members of the Penn Community together to share their observations and love of birds! Penn is a vibrant habitat for resident birds as well as a stop-over spot for migratory birds. Bird Aware Penn is a place to share Penn bird sightings and for members of the Penn, community to exchange information and their appreciation for birds. Check out the site and log your sightings here.
Birdwatching at Penn
Download this eBird Field Checklist before you go birdwatching at Kaskey Park (aka The BioPond). All of these 107 species of birds have been spotted at Kaskey Park before. This landscape provides important habitat for migrating and nesting birds.
Birds as Ecological Indicators at the University of Pennsylvania
Birds are ubiquitous, intricately connected to habitat, sensitive to environmental changes and their presence can indicate ecosystem function. Situated along a major bird migration route, Penn provides important stop-over habitat for migrating birds and a foraging and nesting habitat for resident birds. Analysis of diversity, abundance, and behavior reveals how the campus landscape provides essential habitat. Point-count surveys and area searches at representative habitat typologies on campus were conducted during migration and breeding seasons in 2018 and 2019. Systematic and incidental data collection resulted in 84 species from 34 families, with a total of 3,777 detections of birds recorded. Enhancing bird-friendly design guidelines and improving campus habitat and management strategies could have a broad impact on landscape connectivity and bird species richness. Learn more by reading this capstone project written by Chloe Cerwinka, Penn's Landscape Planner. You can also find a poster for this project here.
How to get involved
iNaturalist is an easy-to-use citizen science application that helps to map and observe biodiversity across the world. Available on Android, iOS, and the web, iNaturalist is being used by the Penn community to document the frequency and location of bird strikes on campus. Collecting data allows us to better understand campus hot-spots and prioritize mitigation efforts. Interested in supporting this citizen science project? You can find out more and contribute to the Penn Bird Strikes project here!
Bird-Friendly Design Guidelines
Penn is committed to incorporating design strategies that reduce bird collisions with buildings. Penn’s Bird-Friendly Design Guidelines provide guidance for the evaluation of bird-friendly design strategies in new building and applicable renovation projects. You can find the latest Bird Friendly Design Guidelines here.
Campus as a Living Lab
Lights Out Pilot
Penn is piloting a Lights Out program in partnership with the new Lights Out Philly program, in an effort to protect migrating birds. Many migrating birds are killed when they collide with buildings, and turning off lights at night during spring and fall bird migration can save countless birds.
Bird Collisions Mitigation and Tracking
During the 2019/2020 academic year, student Eco-Reps Ryan Lam (SEAS ‘22) and Avni Limdi (SEAS ‘21) worked with staff at Facilities and Real Estate Services (FRES) and the Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM) to track bird strikes on campus by documenting bird species and determining where strikes are most common. They also researched best practices at other institutions and developed messaging to raise awareness about this critical environmental issue. Read more about the 2019/2022 Bird Strikes Project.
During the 2021/2022 academic year, student Eco-Reps Ennie Akinwunmi (SAS '23), Gabriel Torrebiarte (WH '23), and Lorraina Rojas (SAS '22) used Penn's campus as a living lab to improve bird habitat in an urban setting by monitoring bird strikes on campus and identify opportunities for outreach initiatives. Read more about the 2021/2022 Bird Friendly Penn project.
Penn Bird Strikes Green Fund Project
Penn’s Green Fund welcomes ideas from students, faculty, and staff about ways to improve social, environmental, and economic performance on Penn’s campus. With support from the Green Fund, partners from the Perelman School of Medicine, Vet School, and Facilities and Real Estate Services retrofitted glass windows at the Johnson Pavilion and the Vet School to reduce bird strikes. Read more about this Green Fund project here.
Bird-Monitoring with Penn Housekeeping
Penn Housekeeping staff are often the first people on campus each day, and since many bird-strikes occur around dawn, they are in an ideal position to assist with campus bird-strike monitoring. Every spring and fall migration, Housekeeping staff monitor buildings on campus for bird-window collisions and alert the Penn Bird Strikes team when they find a dead bird. This information gets entered into the iNaturalist Penn Bird Strikes website. As monitoring occurs on a grassroots basis, this strategy allows us to increase the amount of data we have about bird-window collisions on campus and determine hot-spots for future mitigation efforts.
Bird-Friendly Buildings at Penn
Lauder College House
The large windows that surround the Lauder College House courtyard were originally a prime target for bird-window collisions, with dozens of birds being collected on some days during the spring and fall migrations. In a collaboration between Lauder House, Audubon Mid-Atlantic, FRES, and Residential Services, the largest bird-friendly retrofit on campus to date was implemented at the ground-level courtyard windows. The bird-friendly film was installed, improving window visibility to birds that should dramatically decrease the frequency of collisions. Going beyond the “2 x 4 rule”, these dots are spaced 2” apart horizontally and vertically. Ongoing monitoring of the site, including documentation of bird strike frequency, location, species, and time of day, will help to ensure the effectiveness of the retrofit, as well as inform future bird-friendly efforts. Additional bird-friendly strategies are being explored for courtyard windows above the ground level that has not been treated yet.
Hill Pavillion/Johnson Building
In 2015, Joe Durrance began to track bird strikes around Penn Medicine and Penn Vet buildings as part of his Penn Masters of Environmental Studies capstone. Using a Penn Green Fund Grant, Durrance and FRES led a pilot program in partnership with Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and School of Veterinary Medicine to apply bird friendly film to windows on the Johnson Pavilion and the glass walls of pedestrian walkways at the Hill Pavilion, drastically decreasing the number of deadly bird strikes. The full report can be found here.
Singh Center for Nanotechnology
Despite having an entire front facade covered in windows, the Singh Center for Nanotechnology incorporates effective bird-friendly measures. The windows of the Singh Center are covered in an acid-etched glass vertical stripe pattern that interrupts the otherwise continuous glass surface. This interruption improves window visibility for birds, decreasing the frequency of bird strikes.
Levin Neural & Behavioral Sciences Building
The Stephen A. Levin Neural & Behavioral Sciences building utilizes a bird-friendly external scrim. The durable fabric is woven in a unique, amorphous pattern, and dramatically reduces the reflectivity of the glass. By reducing the reflectivity of the glass windows and creating a pattern that disrupts the continuous surface of glass, the building is made bird-friendly.
Left Bank Building
Bird-friendly film was applied to the first level of glass at the glass entrance tower to the Left Bank Building. White dots applied 2” x 2” apart are visible to birds and help to reduce bird-strikes. Further mitigation efforts are being explored at the glass windows above.
When the Ringe Building was recently renovated into a state-of-the-art squash center, the architects at FRES prioritized improving the building's overall sustainability footprint as well. Large glass windows containing horizontal fritting were installed in an effort to minimize heat gain and bird collisions.
New College House West
In preparation for the construction of New College House West, a number of different glazing, etching, and silk-screening methods were evaluated by BCJ architectural practice in partnership with FRES for bird-friendliness, solar performance, and aesthetics. Ultimately, Arnold Glas Ornilux A70 glass was chosen, which utilizes a special UV coating only visible to birds and has an American Bird Conservancy threat factor of 20. The American Bird Conservancy considers materials with threat factors of 30 or less as bird-friendly, with lower threat factors corresponding to a greater reduction in bird-window collisions.4 While continued monitoring of future bird strikes is still necessary to evaluate the performance of this glass, this bird-friendly installation sets a precedent for bird-friendly measures in future buildings and further demonstrates Penn’s commitment to balancing the needs of the natural and built environment.
- Audubon Mid-Atlantic
- Bird Safe Philly
- Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)
- College Houses and Academic Services
- Facilities and Real Estate Services, Office of the University Architect, Landscape Architecture Group
- Housekeeping and Aramark Custodial Services
- Lauder College House
- Master of Environmental Studies Program
- Morris Arboretum
- Penn Sustainability
- Perelman School of Medicine
- Residential and Hospitality Services (Business Services Division)
- School of Veterinary Medicine
- Student Eco-Reps Bird Strikes Final Report
- Penn Bird Strikes Project Green Fund Final Report
- What Does 'Bird-Safe Glass' Even Mean?
- Glass Collisions: Preventing Bird Window Strikes
- Philly skyline will go mostly dark at night starting April 1 to save birds
- Penn takes more steps toward a bird-friendly campus
- Envisioning campus as ‘living lab’ to improve bird habitat
- Tracking birds in flight over the Philadelphia skies
- Listening to Birds Provides Answers
- A field guide to bird-watching in Philly
1. Birds Are Vanishing From North America
2. Over 1,000 birds found dead after crashing into Philadelphia skyscrapers
3. A Critical Sanctuary Along the Atlantic Flyway
4. ABC's Threat Factor Rating System, American Bird Conservancy