Students to present bird-window collision research

February 26, 2014
Elizabeth Tanner and James Nooyen

PLATTEVILLE, Wis.­­­ — At the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Boebel Hall is home to the physical and life sciences, including biology, geology and geography, among others. Ironically, it is also the biggest danger to local area birds due to its deadly reflective glass windows. Other places on campus have just as much glass and are just as dangerous, which is why fourth year students James Nooyen and Elizabeth Tanner struck out to investigate these fatal bird collisions. They will present the results of their research at the annual Posters in the Rotunda event in Madison, Wis., next month as well as at the UW System Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity at UW-Milwaukee in April.

Nooyen, a biology major with a zoology emphasis, desired to study birds after growing up in his native Black Creek, Wis., sitting outside his bay window and trying to identify every type of bird that flew by. Tanner, a biology major with an ecology emphasis and minors in environmental science and renewable energy from Gays Mills, Wis., gained a similar interest after taking a semester course in ornithology with Dr. Jeff Huebschman.

Their research began with Dr. Steve Hager at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., who wanted to conduct an international survey of college campuses to find out which conditions in buildings were most hazardous to birds. Nooyen and Tanner were selected to survey UW-Platteville, one of 17 college sites in the United States, Canada and Mexico involved in this project. The goal was simple: select six sites over a period of 21 days between September and October to uncover what was deadliest to unsuspecting birds.

“The problem is the reflective glass,” said Tanner. “Birds see the reflection of the sky and trees and think that there is more space ahead of them to fly.”

Boebel Hall, Bridgeway Commons, the Children’s Center, Ullsvik Hall, Pickard Hall and a private residence were selected and assessed for window area, number of floors, vegetation and floor area. At the end of the trial period, Nooyen and Tanner had discovered seven birds within the six-foot distance parameter of each building, suggesting that they had died via collision.

“It’s a number that doesn’t seem that high, but when you think about how many buildings are in Platteville and how many collisions can occur each year, that’s a lot of birds,” said Tanner.

Boebel, the deadliest of the buildings, had a total of three birds, and Ullsvik was a close second with two. The birds represented a variety of species, including a morning dove, hummingbird, yellow-bellied sapsucker, Tennessee warbler, ovenbird, white-throated sparrow and slate-colored Junco. Window collision is the leading cause of death for birds, but it can be reduced with the implementation of non-reflective screens in windows.

“The loss of birds due to collisions can be very detrimental to our ecosystem,” said Nooyen. “Hummingbirds are major pollinators and they are among the top birds killed by window collisions.”

Although Nooyen will graduate in May, Tanner will continue the research next year when Hager conducts the survey again, possibly with new study parameters.

“Right now, the research is still in the data-collection stage, but in the future it might have an impact on building design,” said Nooyen.

Contact: Elizabeth Tanner,; and James Nooyen,

Written by: Angela O’Brien, UW-Platteville University Information and Communications, (608) 342-1194,


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