On the treadmill at the Brooks Family YMCA, it almost feels like you’re outside running, thanks to an expanse of glass looking into the woods of McIntire Park.
And that expanse of glass has taken out a tufted titmouse, a dark-eyed junco, a hermit thrush, a cedar waxwing and a white-throated sparrow, according to Charlottesville High student Walker Catlett, who’s been monitoring the situation since October.
Buildings kill nearly 1 billion birds a year, according to the American Bird Conservancy, and are more deadly than cats. And the use of lots of glass further confuses the feathered creatures, who fly smack into windows.
“Buildings in general are one of the leading causes of bird deaths,” says Catlett. “This building has killed five. Think about how many buildings there are and you can see what a problem it is.”
Catlett, who got the bird-watching bug from his grandmother and who is a member of the Blue Ridge Young Birders Club, noticed that the windows on the new Y were “big and reflective,” and when he checked around, he found the dead titmouse and junco.
He advised the YMCA of the fatalities, and it put up hawk decoys to deter the birds. “They don’t really work,” he says.
The CHS junior would like to see the fitness center use Feather Friendly—adhesive markers applied to the exterior glass that’s manufactured by 3M—or ABC BirdTape for the DIYer.
Piedmont Family YMCA CEO Jessica Maslaney is sympathetic to Catlett’s concerns about the five bird strikes since the Y has been open—but her priorities are different.
“We have lots of windows,” and applying decals to them would cost upward of $15,000, she says.
“Our mission is to provide wellness for all,” she says. “Do we spend $15,000 on decals or on safety and services for members?”
On her wishlist are handicapped doors to the building—“one of the things we wish we’d done”—that cost $6,000, and treads on the stairs.
And there’s an aesthetic consideration with the decals, which she says have to go up every six inches and would affect the “great sight lines.”
“I’m not trying to minimize Walker’s concerns,” she says. “I applaud his efforts.” And she suggests that if a bird-loving donor wanted to fund avian-avoidance measures, that would be another matter for the nonprofit.
Catlett raised an alert on social media but, so far, says Maslaney, “We haven’t seen a huge local response.”