Birds collide with glass buildings in NTU

5 Nov 2018

By Osmond Chia

The glass structures in ADM are responsible for nearly 1 bird collision a day.

Jordan Leong was walking at the centre of the School of Arts, Design and Media (ADM) on 17 Oct when he heard a loud thud on a glass panel in front of him.

He noticed a small brown bird, about the size of a fist, lying on the ground ahead. He found out later that it was a juvenile tiger shrike, an uncommon migratory species, which had flown straight into the panels of the ADM building.

It looked disoriented and was unable to fly, said Leong, 25, a final-year ADM student, who picked up the bird and placed it on a grass patch nearby to recuperate.

This is one of the many incidents where birds have collided with glass structures in NTU, resulting in death or injury, raising concerns for the safety of wildlife, and biodiversity on campus.

Reflective surfaces

A bird-building collision patrol was formed by ten NTU students during the Global Bird Rescue’s Bird Collision week, an annual event that encourages participants to record and report cases of birds colliding with buildings.

The group recorded at least 22 cases of bird collisions in its first three patrol weeks. These birds were either found dead or injured near reflective structures.

Among the birds found were 18 uncommon migrant species, including three yellow-rumped flycatchers and an oriental dove kingfisher. The remaining six birds were resident species, including common flameback woodpeckers.

NTU sees a large number of bird species as it is surrounded by forests that have abundant food and resources, said Mr David Tan, an avian ecologist who has collected more than 700 carcasses of birds killed in local building collisions over the past five years. He uses the carcasses for research and analysis on the phenomenon.

But glass surfaces are a threat to birds as they do not have good forward-facing eyesight.

“Humans ourselves are susceptible to collisions with glass. Now imagine a bird — its eyes are at the sides of their heads. It’s even harder for them to notice there is glass ahead,” he said.

Glass structures also reflect its surroundings, making these birds less likely to realise they are there.

“The ADM building is a great case study. Trees and the sky are being reflected on the glass. It mimics a rainforest, so birds fly straight into them,” said Mr Tan.

Green architecture

NTU has many glass-panelled structures, with more than 95 per cent of its buildings in line with the Building and Construction Authority’s Green Mark scheme. Glass panels are common in green-marked infrastructure as they allow natural light to come through, reducing the need for electricity.

While such designs help to lower energy use, environmental policies often fail to consider biodiversity, said Campus Creatures member Gina Goh, 24, who leads NTU’s bird-building collision patrol team.

“When we talk about the environment, it’s always about energy and water. We don’t think about wildlife, so there is a loophole here,” said the final-year School of Biological Sciences student. “Hopefully this is an area that can be taken into consideration.”

Dr Shawn Lum, a lecturer at the Asian School of the Environment, said data collected in NTU will provide researchers with a deeper understanding of the phenomenon that is happening in Singapore.

“This is part of a bigger island-wide survey, and we can eventually identify the birds’ flight paths, and which species are coming in at different times of the year,” said Dr Lum, who conducts lectures on rainforest ecology.

The data will also help to pinpoint which buildings in NTU are particularly hazardous to birds, which can then be used to raise suggestions to the school on how to accommodate biodiversity, he added.

When asked what he thought about the school’s push toward green-marked infrastructure, Dr Lum said: “I see this challenge as a good opportunity for the school, where we use our creativity to achieve sustainability without threatening wildlife.”

“It will prevent thousands of deaths for birds. We have the talent, engineers, designers, writers and communicators. Who better to do it than a university?”