Three ways bird flocks fluster facilities—and how campuses are fighting back

As campuses grow both in size and population, facilities departments must frequently consider, plan for, and respond to various species of flora and fauna on their campuses. Of these, perhaps the most consistent and widespread concern involves flocks of birds.

Before your next campus expansion, explore the three most common obstacles—as well as the solutions—facilities leaders are implementing in response to fowl running afoul.

Problem #1: Colliding with campus buildings

One of the leading causes of bird fatalities in the United States is colliding with windows, killing hundreds of millions of birds each year. While skyscrapers may seem the most likely candidate, in reality around 44% of all strikes are estimated to be caused by buildings one to three stories high. Campuses are no exception: at Utah State University, 60 birds were found to have crashed into building windows in one semester alone. The disposal of the bird carcasses and the repairs to damaged windows impact both facilities finances and student impressions alike, creating an unpleasant and unhealthy situation.

Some institutions are diligently working to mitigate this problem. At Duke University, which counted more than 100 bird strikes during the 2014-2015 academic year, students, faculty, and facilities collaborated on a website for the problem. The online resources included guidance on what to do and who to call if one found a building-struck bird, as well as suggestions for responding to birds strikes in the future.

Meanwhile, researchers at Temple University produced a study entitled “Fauna Protection in a Sustainable University Campus” that sought to reduce bird strikes on campuses. Their findings, some of which have been implemented by facilities leaders at campuses such as Utah State and Duke, include monitoring campus locations to determine the most-at-risk sites, coating windows with a UV layer that is visible to birds but not to humans, and using decorative window films. Research from the Acopian Center for Ornithology at Muhlenberg College found that certain protective layers and films can reduce strikes by up to 86%.

Problem #2: Inhabiting campus spaces

Large flocks of birds cause significant damage to the spaces where they roost. Some campuses have reported flocks of over 3000 individual birds. These groups can damage campus grounds, generate distracting noise for students and faculty, and produce large quantities of feces (which require significant pressure washing and other sanitation work to remove). Unseasonably warm weather has also led some flocks to remain around some campuses for abnormally long periods of time.

In response, some institutions are creating innovative solutions to the problem. Some institutions put nets around campus trees to prevent birds from roosting within them. At the University of Pittsburgh, facilities leaders teamed up with local ornithologists from the National Aviary to help manage a large flock of persistent crows. Facilities invested in mobile sound units ($602 each) that repeatedly produced the coos of the crows’ natural predator, the great horned owl. While this hasn’t driven the crows off campus entirely, it has allowed facilities to herd them into areas of campus less frequented by students and visitors.

Meanwhile, facilities leaders at Pennsylvania State have developed a crow relocation program that uses pyrotechnic bangers and screamers to relocate the flocks. These fireworks are launched by trained professionals, and campus residents are informed about each location in advance of the noise-making activities. Most recently, Facilities has worked to ward off crows from the Penn State Berkey Creamery, a historic (student) haunt for ice cream.

Problem #3: Terrorizing students and staff

While most bird flocks generally stay away from humans, some birds have grown bold enough to bother campus inhabitants, going so far as to attack students and staff. At the University of Michigan, a turkey nicknamed “Gobbles” became infamous for chasing students into buildings and lying down on roadways to block traffic, earning him seven police reports. Meanwhile, dive-bombing seagulls at the University of Ulster in Belfast, Ireland forced construction crews to postpone work on their £250 million new campus.

Some campuses have drafted their own birds against these aggressive flocks. Facilities staff at the University of Plymouth in England hired a falconry team to use trained hawks and falcons to scare away angry seagulls. Meanwhile, the University of Bath (also in England) turned their seagull problem into a positive PR experience with the purchase of an owl to help manage the flock. The owl (named Yoda) was so popular that officials issued him his own library card “in recognition of his valuable service.”

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