These Images Remind Us How Buildings Aren’t Designed with Birds in Mind

Through her tragically beautiful photo series, a Minneapolis artist reminds us why hundreds of thousands of birds won’t be making it to their winter destinations this migratory season.

August 19, 2016
"Impact (American Redstart)"

Miranda Brandon

The summer is flying by, and soon birds will start heading south for the winter. Sadly, many of them will have their trip cut short by a building. Collisions with windows are one of the leading threats to migratory birds, killing up to a billion in the United States each year. At night, when some birds use the stars to navigate, the bright lights of big cities can draw them in and disorient them. During the day, birds simply can’t see the glass, which often reflects inviting scenes from the outside like open skies or leafy perches.

Minneapolis artist Miranda Brandon has witnessed the perils posed by panes firsthand. As a volunteer for Audubon Minnesota’s Project BirdSafe, Brandon helped survey buildings in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul during the fall and spring migration, looking for birds that had struck them. Between 2007 and 2013, the group collected more than 4,500 fallen fliers.

The discoveries of silenced songbirds—one after another—especially resonated with Brandon. So she decided to capture the birds on camera, where their beauty, even in death, is disquieting.

Her resulting photographic series, Impact, evokes the tragic moment of a window strike in stunning detail. (Afterward, Brandon returned the bodies to Audubon for preservation and data entry.) Along with a second avian-inspired project, DIY Bird Populator, the images were part of Brandon’s MFA thesis exhibition at the University of Minnesota and an exhibit at the Bell Museum of Natural History.

The photos serve as timely reminders that there are predictably painful consequences when our built environments don’t take wildlife into consideration. For Brandon, addressing that problem was a logical follow-up to her series. The artist is currently working on a project to incorporate bird-safe design into areas of the University of Minnesota campus where bird collisions have been reported. Interrupting the reflectivity of glass with subtle patterns can make it more visible to birds, and testing has shown that patterns that follow the “2x4 rule”—spaced apart two inches horizontally and four inches vertically—are most effective at catching a bird’s attention. Got other ideas? The group is holding an open call for designs, due November 28.

“Impact (Tennessee Warbler)”

Miranda Brandon

“Impact (Tennessee Warbler) falling”

Miranda Brandon


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