Death from above: Birds’ bodies littering Bklyn streets after fatal collisions with windows

Rest in peace: This bird, a common yellowthroat warbler, likely met its demise when it flew into a glass building as it journeyed south, like so many of other of its comrades.
Kacey Kauffman

These birds are going into the light.

Brooklyn’s sidewalks have become a graveyard for tiny yellow birds dying en masse this month because they are flying into windows as they journey south, according to a local aviary expert.

“It’s migration season right now and it’s likely they’re hitting buildings,” said Robert Bate, president of the Brooklyn Bird Club. “It’s a huge problem in New York City.”

Common Yellowthroat Warblers — a small species with brown feathers on top and yellow on the bottom — trek from as far north as the Arctic down to South America in September and October in search of more bugs to feast on as the weather cools.

They are typically nimble, Bate said, but travel at night and get confused when they see a light through a window or glass that reflects the sky, causing them to flutter straight into the surface.

New York City is located along the “Atlantic Flyway” — a route that cuts through the city and is traversed by hundreds of thousands of birds each year, some of which do not make it to their final destination because of the metropolis’ many reflective buildings, according to Bate.

Brooklynites began noticing the dead birds on sidewalks in Downtown, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Bay Ridge earlier this month, around the same time the Aves started flying towards warmer climates. Concerned mothers of kids who encountered the lifeless warblers posted in Facebook groups about what they saw, prompting dozens of replies from others who also witnessed their yellow bodies littering the sidewalks.

A Boerum Hill woman reported finding four in one day and her doorman told her that he swept up five in one brush.

“It just seems so out of the blue, people are seeing them all over the place,” said Brooke Suveyke, who lives on State Street.

Another resident agreed that something just didn’t seem right.

“It’s upsetting for me to see this one species of bird dying like this,” said Kacey Kaufman, a Bay Ridgite who found one of the winged creatures on Wednesday. “There’s something unnatural going on, it’s heartbreaking.”

Residents didn’t know what led to the mass fatalities and feared that whatever was causing the birds to drop from the sky could also harm humans.

Kaufman called 311 to alert the city to the issue, but the operator told her that a person must see at least 10 dead birds to make a report. Outraged, she then called the Department of Health, and a rep gave her the same response. But the mom pushed back and eventually was asked to send a photo that the agency could share with the Cornell Wildlife Health Center, which works with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to study and protect wildlife.

The center’s research team is sending Kaufman a cooler to pack with five of the dead birds, which she will ship back for them to examine.

But Bate doesn’t think there’s a cause for the feathered ones’ untimely deaths beyond their fatal collisions.

“I haven’t heard of anything other than glass that could really bring down birds in large numbers, especially at this time of the year,” he said.

Some builders take measures to safeguard birds from their mirror-like structures by installing special glass with ultraviolet patterns so the Aves, which can see that type of light, know not to fly into it. Another way developers can ensure their buildings are not deadly to birds is to install glass that isn’t completely reflective, so the fliers can tell the difference between sky and structure.

And anyone who finds a dead bird in their nabe is encouraged to report it to the New York City Audubon Society’s “D-bird” database, which the preservation group uses to track deceased creatures across the city.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

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