Saving birds one walk at a time

Saving birds one walk at a time
Ornithology Club does more than just watch birds
(Photo: Getty images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

By Yianni Sarris

A club at The Ohio State University is working to tackle the problem of birds colliding head-on with building windows.

The Ornithology Club is a student organization dedicated to the appreciation and conservation of birds in Columbus and beyond.

Starting off mostly by hosting recreational bird walks, the club has expanded its scope over the past couple of years. It is now involved with a number of outreach activities that range from maintaining trails of eastern bluebird nest boxes to sponsoring local events for the Ohio Young Birders Club, a group for elementary through high school students that encourages, educates, and empowers youth conservation leaders.

Ohio State's Ornithology Club's biggest project is dedicated to finding injured birds that hit campus buildings.

In spring 2018, the club began its biggest project to date, Lights Out Buckeyes. The aim is to find and care for injured birds that have collided with campus buildings, and seek reforms that could help decrease the problem universitywide.

Through Lights Out Buckeyes, students take morning walks around Ohio State’s Columbus campus, searching for injured or dead birds that met their fate after colliding with windows on buildings.

During migration periods in the spring and fall, a significant number of birds travel through the United States, so the number of birds striking buildings typically spikes during those seasons. 

“When birds migrate, they actually follow the stars to know where they are going,” said Kandace Glanville, co-president of the Ornithology Club and a student at the School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) within Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES). “At night, when birds see lights reflecting out of certain types of glass windows, they are distracted by that light instead.”

“Birds can also see reflections of trees in windows and fly into the windows believing them to be real trees. ”Kandace Glanville, co-president of the Ornthology Club

When birds are distracted by this light, they fall out of their migration patterns and, following the light, collide with windows, causing heavy physical damage to the birds.

“Birds can also see reflections of trees in windows and fly into the windows believing them to be real trees,” said Glanville.

While the club tries to save as many birds as possible, few of the birds found are still alive. Because of this, Lights Out Buckeyes is focused on gathering data to present to Ohio State officials in hopes of spurring lasting change.

“What we are seeking to do is gather data that we can then show to the university, proving that this is, in fact, a problem” said Tyler Ficker, the other co-president of the club and yet another SENR student.

A pileated woodpecker climbs a tree trunk. (Photo: Getty images)

To collect this data, club members walk the Columbus campus from 6–8 a.m. four days a week. They’ve collaborated with SENR to develop protocols for the monitoring effort, working directly with Chris Tonra, the club’s faculty advisor and an assistant professor of avian wildlife ecology, as well as Matthew Shumar, program coordinator of the Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative.

Dead birds are taken to Ohio State’s Museum of Biological Diversity, while living ones are transported to the Ohio Wildlife Center, located just north of Columbus.

The Ornithology Club has recorded over 200 incidents of bird collisions on the Columbus campus since the inception of Lights Out Buckeyes. In the United States alone, it is estimated that between 600 million to 1 billion birds die from window collisions each year, according to research from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

“We want to present the data to the university and get them to change their building policies,” said Ficker. “Using different types of glass can decrease window reflectivity, and having less light at night will allow birds to continue migrating without being distracted.”

Club members toured the Tetrapod collection, which includes birds, at the Museum of Biological Diversity on west campus.

Last autumn, Glanville and Ficker presented the club’s findings at the Ohio Avian Research Conference, where they received the Dr. David R. Osborne Research Award for best student presentation. Additionally, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the Ohio Young Birders Club presented the Ornithology Club with $1,000 to support its conservation efforts.

A similar “Lights Out” campaign, spearheaded by the Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative, has been underway since 2012 to reduce the hazards of Ohio’s urban landscapes. Ohio Lights Out is running in seven of the state’s cities, bringing local governments and private businesses together to reduce nighttime lighting and treat reflective glass.

To help out with Lights Out Buckeyes or to learn more about the Ornithology Club, check out the club’s Facebook page at