Research Results: Widening the Wingspan

If you have visited our campus, you may have noticed a tiny sticker in the bottom-left corner of each of our windows – a product of our organized study to combat bird strikes. UGA Costa Rica reached an imperative milestone for our studies this week by having one of the top researchers in Costa Rica visit our campus for a lab tutorial and presentation over her findings over the past four years.

Martha Cruz has been working on her bird strike project for over a year now. Her mentor, Rose Marie Menacho-Odio, has been conducting meticulous research since 2013.

Martha Garro Cruz, with several other researchers and assistants gathered with Menacho-Odio in the campus laboratory for a training on bird dissection. This was absolutely imperative for Cruz’s study to be able to distinguish the gender of affected bird species that lack sexual dimorphism. The studies of Martha Cruz now have increasing ability to be included in Costa Rica’s national museum, which has been preserving specimens since the 1970’s.

The questions of Menacho-Odio’s research are which species strike the most frequently, which buildings are most prone to being struck, and what are the most effective measures to prevent strikes? Her research has produced tangible answers to all of these questions. We are following suit on campus – here are our methods and then results:

cab_2017_312_chasingperezosoThe research that has been occurring since 2013 is organized into three different areas based off altitude. The San Luis valley that is home to our campus is known as area one. These areas show differing results of species striking most frequently. For example, we rarely have Emerald Toucanets striking our windows, while that is the most common species in area two, with higher altitude. This occurs even though we have this species on our campus, pictured from our bird-watching activity here.

The organized research has been conducted in three steps based off parameters set by researchers Hager and Cosentino:

The first is the systematic search, where researchers search a distance about 2 meters around the perimeter of each building, three consecutive days in a row during the most optimal hours.

The second is systematic observation, which happens 6 consecutive days in the morning for 15 minutes on each building side, moving clockwise. This is an observation where the scientists stand at a slight distance from the building and observe the birds behavior towards a window. Different species interact with completely different behavior. For example, the house wren, who is known for living within close proximity to buildings, has never been recorded as actually striking a window on campus. However, it is very frequent that the house wren will approach the window to catch insects that are stuck in spider webs, eating the insects
before safely maneuvering away from the window. This is opposed to the clay-colored thrush, who is known to fight its own reflection. These observations generate new hypotheses for how adaptation is working.

The third is staff and citizen science. Many of our naturalists will help to record bird strikes and capture injured or stunned birds. The naturalists inform all of our residents to help record bird strikes on the posted chart located just to left of our reception office. UGACR makes recording this information a small-scale model of a community effort to combat this issue that claims hundreds of thousands of bird lives each year.

On campus, we have recorded 44 species of birds from 22 different families striking windows here on campus from January 2016 to January 2017.

The most striking bird is the Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus). This is a migratory species that usually enters our region in October. On this graph you can see the influx of strikes in October and again when they are returning in March.

The following species are in order for the most strikes, following the Swainson’s Thrush: The Clay-colored Thrush (Turdus grayi), Long-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia linearis), and White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi)cab_2017_274_chasingperezoso

The Trochilidae family (hummingbirds) is the second most recorded for striking windows.

Bird strikes are common around the globe. If you ever witness one, it is best to catch the bird, gently stabilizing the head, wings, and legs. Place it in a paper bag for 15-20 minutes to help relieve stress, then let the bird loose. Species like humming birds can often face heart-attacks from the stress of the strike and then being handled.

Moving forward, the goal of Menacho-Odio is to present more talks to increase awareness and dispel myth surrounding the subject. Martha Cruz hopes to use the research to implement the most effective preventative measures on campus, like stringing vertical rope about 5 inches apart over the frame of windows to let birds know it is not maneuverable.

Photos and words offered by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll with graphic additions created by Martha Garro Cruz.

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