PROVIDENCE – The first time you see a dead bird on the sidewalk outside of your office, you just try to avoid stepping on it. When you see three in the same week, you start asking questions.
That’s what happened when a Globe reporter started noticing the dead birds outside of the Wexford Innovation Center in Providence, a brand-new seven-story all-glass structure on Dyer Street that houses the dozens of businesses as well as offices for Brown University.
Turns out to be exactly what you might expect: The birds appear to be crashing into the building and plunging to their death. It hasn’t been a daily occurrence, but building managers have noticed enough of dead birds that they’re considering multiple options for addressing the problem.
“This is extremely unfortunate and I have been looking into solutions to include reaching out to our pest control contractor to see if they have any ideas,” said David Konetski, a property manager for the Cambridge Innovation Center’s Providence office, when rents space to startups and other companies – including the Globe’s Rhode Island bureau – in the building.
Konetski said the windows have a tint to them that creates a mirror effect, making birds think they can pass through. He said the windows are certified through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a program that rates properties based on their potential impact to the environment.
Who would have thought “going green” could be so deadly?
“A lot of the solutions consist of putting items on each window - such as duct tape or feathers, believe it or not – and aesthetically, those options are not going to work,” Konetski said in an email. He said two high-pitch noisemakers that only birds can hear will be installed on the roof in the spring.
These kinds of bird casualties aren’t uncommon.
A 2014 study published in “The Condor,” an ornithological journal, estimated that between 365 million and 985 million birds are killed by hitting buildings in the United States each year. That’s second only to cats when it comes to non-natural causes of death for birds.
Several kinds of warblers, the painted bunting, and the wood thrush are the species that the studied identified as “highly vulnerable” to the window crashes. It’s not clear what kinds of birds have met their demise outside of the Wexford building.
In 2012, a Canadian court tossed out a lawsuit accusing the company that owns several high-rise buildings in Toronto of contributing to the deaths of hundreds of birds. A judge ruled that the company couldn’t be held liable for the reflection of sunlight.
Peter Paton, a wildlife ecology professor at the University of Rhode Island, said it’s more common to see birds crashing into building during the migratory season because many are flying south as the weather gets colder.
Paton said one of his students found 18 dead birds in a period of 27 days during the fall semester outside of URI’s new Fascitelli Center for Advanced Engineering, a building that has a similar glass window structure to the Wexford building in Providence.
“It's a huge issue, particularly during fall migration,” Paton said. “A lot of birds are nocturnal migrants.”
Officials at URI have taken steps to mitigate bird strikes – including adding frosted glazing to the tallest portions of the building – according to spokesperson Anthony LaRoche. He said the university is “investigating additional strategies” to address the problem.
Paton said there is also a common sense way of avoiding many bird versus window crashes: Turning off lights at night. He said that would be both energy efficient and won’t make the windows as attractive to birds.
Christine West, a co-owner of KITE Architects in Providence, said she hasn’t heard about bird strikes being a significant problem in the city. She said developers or architects occasionally consider the potential of birds crashing into buildings, but it’s “one of a thousand” issues that can come up during the construction process.
“You really don’t know it’s a problem until it occurs,” West said.
It’s unclear how many other buildings in Providence have seen similar bird casualties, but it’s unlikely that deaths have increased simply because the Wexford building is new.
Paton noted that millions of birds are long-distance migrants that travel from breeding grounds in Canada to wintering grounds in the south, so “they really do not have a chance to learn where windows are.”
Konetski, the property manager for the Cambridge Innovation Center in Providence, said he plans to test out a new solution in the coming days: He purchased ultraviolet liquid for several exterior windows that will help birds detect that the glass is in front of them.
“Seems promising,” he said.