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Issues Of The Environment: Washtenaw Safe Passage Raises Awareness About Window Danger To Birds

David Lenker

It's very common for birds to accidentally hit the windows of someone's home or workplace, which leaves the birds seriously injured or dead.  It is part of a serious extinction threat to our winged friends.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair talks to Heidi Trudell from Washtenaw Safe Passage, an organization designed to prevent such accidents from happening.


  • Birds are facing enormous challenges to their survival. Window strikes are killing up to 988 million birds every year across the U.S., according to a2014 study in the ornithological journal Condor.  In October 2019, the National Audubon Society released alarming data forecasting that nearly two-thirds of bird species in the United States are threatened with extinction due to climate change.  Outdoor cats kill an estimated billion birds a year, and habitat loss shrinks the range of many imperiled species each year.
  • Washtenaw County and the metro Detroit region are situated at the intersection of two migration flyways—the Atlantic and Mississippi.  The area is a ‘hot spot’ for migratory birds and high-risk for window strikes.
  • Heidi Trudell and Alice Elliott, coordinators for Washtenaw Audubon Safe Passage (WSP), are working to document bird strikes in the greater-Washtenaw County area, with the hope of increasing awareness about what can be done to lessen and prevent these fatalities.
  • Trudell and Elliott volunteer more than ten hours weekly from March 15 through November 1.  With a growing team of volunteers they are now able to cover between twenty-five to thirty buildings in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, including EMU and WCC’s campuses, North Campus at UM, Ypsilanti District Library, and the Ypsilanti courthouse.
  • Prevention is the core mission of Safe Passage.  Trudell meets with architects and facility managers to consult on mitigation and design strategies for bird-safe buildings.  Turning off lights reduces bird mortality and saves electricity.  “For high-rise buildings or any building over five floors, turning off non-essential internal lights from ten or eleven p.m. until 6 a.m. year-round, and especially if decorative exterior lighting is turned off as well, would be tremendous.” 
  • Heidi Trudell, Coordinator for Washtenaw Safe Passage, says, after being a dedicated birder, she realized she could do more for birds by counting the dead bodies.  She points out that birds are not just enjoyable, but vital to the food production of many crops, especially coffee.  Yellow warblers are a common breeding bird species in southeast Michigan, and they are vital one of the top predators of the coffee borer beetle - they winter on shade-grown coffee plantations in Central America - and they often hit windows in the Midwest - as do Black-throated Blue Warblers, and American Redstarts.
  • Coffee profits with these birds: $310 per hectare; without birds as pest control:  $44/hectare. (Source: “Why Birds Matter” (Sekercioglu et al))

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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