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Town grappling with how to stop bird deaths at Newmarket library

Council weighing whether to delay on a fix to birds colliding with library's reflective windows over costs, efficiency
Oct. 28, 2021
Joseph Quigley

Newmarket Public Library is a hazard for birds, though the town is considering whether it will delay a comprehensive fix.

The municipality has identified it as an issue but has not yet included window adjustments in its 2022 budget. The price tag for a solution is an estimated $141,790, which staff recommended deferring beyond next year's budget out of a desire to time the fix for when the windows are due for replacement.

Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) Canada executive director Michael Mesure said such delays might make sense for a year or less. But he said there is a legal responsibility for organizations to quickly address buildings with bird-striking issues, and it is important to protect declining species.

“It’s in the best interest, both for commercial and institutional buildings and public buildings that are having a significant problem of bird strikes, to address this problem as soon as possible,” Mesure said.

The library’s upper floor, and one of its sides, is full of reflective windows, which has made it an issue for birds. Mesure said FLAP Canada did an assessment of the building several years ago. The municipality has identified it as a problem compared to its other buildings, though could not offer any statistics.

Still, Mayor John Taylor said bird collisions happen regularly there.

“Members of the public might be a little surprised by the number of birds that die every year as a result of that unusual building,” he said during an Oct. 18 budget meeting. “It is a bit of a problematic design.”

Development and infrastructure services commissioner Peter Noehammer said it is labour and cost-intensive to add the necessary film to the windows. They examined the integrity of the windows, to avoid costs if the windows were due for replacement. Some of the windows are compromised, but the whole system is still in good shape and does not need full replacement yet, Noehammer said.

Library CEO Tracy Munusami said their attention has been occupied with COVID-19 policies, and dead birds do not turn up every day. But she said it is an issue they are examining.
“The safety of our wildlife is important for us,” Munusami said. “The library will be working with the town to find a solution.”

Taylor said council has asked staff for other options on the issue for the 2022 budget, the financial implications, and how a fix could line up with window replacement.

Mesure said temporary solutions may not be as expensive. He said there are many options, and a cheaper material could be employed temporarily or applied to only to the most problematic areas, while waiting for a replacement date.

Noehammer said the municipality’s secondary plan and site-plan manual now sets out bird-friendly design protocols.

Mesure said organizations should consider bird-friendliness in design, and FLAP Canada is in talks with York Region about a regional adoption of Markham’s standards. He said it is an issue with all kinds of buildings, including residences.

“Whether it’s a 50-storey structure made entirely of mirrored glass, or it could be a utility shed in your backyard that has a window in its door, all of these types of glass surfaces have the potential to harm birds,” he said. “We all have a role to play in this."