For the past seven years, William and Mary has extended Earth Day in April to a week-long celebration where students come together for events that bring them outdoors and take a chance to reflect on issues of sustainability. Before coming to William and Mary, I had always considered Earth Day a chance to marvel over mother nature and appreciate all the things it has to offer. Now, I’ve learned that Earth Week can mean much more than that.
I have been co-chair of Earth Week this past semester along with the chair, Abby Davidson, planning what type of message we want to convey throughout the week. In past years, there is always a theme with the goal of opening up students and the community to topics that they may be unfamiliar with or be interested in learning more about. This past year, the theme was “The World Around Us” where students were able to participate in a Crim Dell restoration, clean up the James River, and sunset paddleboarding on Lake Matoaka. Combining
activities that give you the chance to enjoy time with your friends in the spring and reflect on the impacts that our habits have on the environment and how we can improve them is the main goal of Earth Week.
The theme for Earth Week 2018 will be Dinner Table Conversations: From Farm to Fork and Back Again. This idea brings up questions of where our food comes from, how it is made, if we are eating the smartest things, and so much more. The COLL300 theme for the spring semester is sustainability, which ties in perfectly with the purpose of Earth Week. On Wednesday, April 18th, the school is welcoming Vandana Shiva. Environmental activist, author of over twenty books and scientific advisor are just a few of her titles. This will be a very exciting chance to hear the voice of a global scholar with a wealth of knowledge in several fields. Throughout the rest of the week, we wanted to bring in an opportunity to participate in a community service events that is environmentally aware and gives back to the community. We will have several other activities with the theme of sustainability and food to foster awareness and bring the community together,
all culminating with the Earth Day Festival taking place on April 21st.
Earth Week is a great opportunity for the campus to promote environmentally aware practices to the students and bring up deeper issues in society that need to be addressed. As a institution of higher learning, colleges can shape the ideals and mindsets that students walk away with when they graduate and go about making changes in the real world. Being exposed to these types of topics are important and Earth Week is a great way to integrate them into the daily lives of students. Our goal is to make it fun and educational and hopefully,
if we do it right, enough people will walk away choosing to make a difference that can have an impact on our environment here at William and Mary. So, when the week comes around in April, remember it’s more than just a chance to say “happy birthday mother nature!”. Take the opportunity to go out and learn more about what we can do to help our planet.
We are tree people now. This semester, Maura Finna (2020), Kelsey Robarts (2017, SoB), and I continued a storied EcoAmbassador project, Crim Dell Mapping. We began the semester with maps and data left from the semesters before and took off running, identifying all of the trees in the Crim Dell. Our goal was to create a map of Crim Dell trees that could change and be used for many years to come. We created a skeleton and it’s up to future twamps to create an incredible body of work.
This is the map that was produced after Fall 2016.
My favorite part of this project was learning how to identify trees. We employed the expertise of our advisor, Professor Beth Chambers, and used East Coast flora identification guides to name all of the trees with diameters of greater than four inches. Now I am able to identify many species of trees on campus and around Virginia, a skill that comes in handy sometimes.
My new favorite tree is a Sycamore, or Platanus occidentalis
There is also an ArcGIS desktop version, located in the Center for Geospatial Analysis at William and Mary database.
This is the ArcGIS Desktop version of our map.
For further information on this project or for help using our data, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ever been to a lake, especially man-made ones, and weren’t able to see your feet? Or even worse you could barely see inches down the brackish surface. Do you remember how you felt? There’s a certain uncomfortability associated with cloudy and dirty water, which makes areas like the Bahamas or Iceland with crystal-clear water extremely appealing. In the past, clean water was seen as a luxury, but in this technological and progressive day and age it’s the aesthetic norm in the developed world. Thus, the demand for materials that would cleanse water of its impurities is high.
Over the summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to assist Professor Randy Chambers in his research with denitrifying bio-polymers. Coming from Virginia Beach I had a vested interest in cleaning brackish and freshwater ecosystems since the city was basically built on a marsh. These bioplastics, commonly referred to as PHA, have the purpose of converting dissolved nitrates in the water to nitrogen gas by providing a conducive environment for denitrifying bacteria to grow. The reduction of nitrates are important since it prevents algae blooms which accounts for most of the dead waste floating in water. He told me there would be many different blends of bioplastics that needed testing. The end goal was to recognize which plastic was the most efficient as denitrification and commercially feasible. The good professor referred to the matting as a “billion dollar idea.”
I was ecstatic. Not only would I be able to help with research, but I could potentially be part of an important marketable sustainable technology. I really look up to people like Elon Musk who was able to capitalize and popularize sustainable tech.
I applied to the Committee on Sustainability’s Green Fee with the pitch that denitrification PHA could possibly clean the Crim Dell and restore it’s beauty. Thankfully, they graciously funded me. Fast-forward to late-May on the door steps of the Keck Lab. My research was about to begin.
I knew that I had to learn the proper techniques for testing the biopolymers in the lab. While Professor Chambers and I were waiting on the more bioplastic blends that were supposed to come in through the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) we ran some lab tests. During the lab incubation, I tested three different types of polymers and a control with the independent variable being the mix of the polymer. The results of multiple trials favored the more pure form of PHA in the lab setting. Though the data was not consistent, more often than not denitrification was occurring at a faster rate in the samples with biopolymers than the controls.
Professor Chambers decided that it would be best to play it by year since the PHA testing would be weather dependent and we were unsure when the additional bioplastics would arrive.To begin, we set up a testing area of silt walls to divide up the stream and bricks to slow down the water in the stormwater outlet in the Crim Dell. We referred to this area as “the floams.” Using stormwater management knowledge from a previous internship I set up sandbags along areas of high run-off and bricks to reduce the destruction of the floams during rain storms. Once the bioplastics arrived, I was tasked with making waffles out of these plastics and zip tying them together to form a mat. Yes, I put bioplastic in actual waffles irons (the ones used to cook food) and became a waffles-chef for a couple days. The VIMS faculty in charge of the project joked that I was the best bio-plastic waffle maker in the world since no else has ever made waffles out of the specific bioplastics we were using.
Over the course of four weeks, we ran from two to three tests each week. The results were very inconsistent. On some tests, I would see denitrification occurring. Other times, there would be an increase in nitrate levels. I was frustrated. I thought I was contaminating my samples when I brought them back to the lab, but Professor Chambers tested the samples himself and found similar results.
There were a lot of factors as well that we thought could account for the inconsistency of the change in nitrate levels, but there wasn’t enough time to test any of them. After thirteen tests, we called the research inconclusive due to the inability for denitrification to be replicated on a consistent basis.
Even though little progress was made on the research itself I’m excited for more sustainable technology like the PHA matting to make its way into the future. Since PHA is a bioplastic with biodegradable properties it could potentially replace a lot of plastics in short-term materials such as erosion control matting or silt wall. This technology has the potential to reduce the amount of microplastic in our oceans while cleaning up water in our ditches. Hopefully, I will revisit the data I collected and re-test the biopolymer in the near future. In the meantime, I am still assisting Professor Chambers during the week in running tests on the new prototypes and mixes of plastics that VIMS continues to send him.
Over this past summer, I did research in the W&M Herbarium every day through a green fee grant to develop protocols for digitizing our vast collection of plant specimens.
If you’ve never heard of an herbarium, you’re not alone. I’ve described herbariums to my friends and family as something like a library for dead plant specimens. Every specimen is painstakingly pressed, dried, labelled, carefully organized by taxon, and maintained in the herbarium. Herbaria may not be glamorous, but they play a crucial role in behind-the-scenes botanical research that can be applied to fields from agriculture to biotechnology to genetics. Universities, botanical gardens, and other institutions all around the world all have herbariums ranging in size from a couple thousand specimens to many millions. William & Mary has a mid-sized herbarium located in ISC 2, with more than 81,000 different plant specimens- and more are added every day. We have the most comprehensive collection of American southeast coastal plain plants, especially of taxa like Cyperaceae (the sedges). Beth Chambers, the curator of our herbarium, has been working on recording and geolocating every plant specimen in the collection into our online database so that the data can never be lost and each specimen can be located and used for research or education with ease.
Up until now, however, the herbarium has had no visual record of the specimens. Delicate plants would be shipped far distances to other institutions for researchers to see our specimens and their label data. Over the course of this summer I bought equipment, created an imaging station, and developed protocols for digitization of every plant specimen. After meeting with digitization experts at the University of Mary Washington, the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, doing extensive research, and testing the system by trial-and-error, I developed a protocol that generally follows the best practices of other institutions like ours but within the constraints of our unique herbarium needs, budget, and time allowances.
This fall, with the aid of these best practices, new equipment, and a team of dedicated volunteers, we are beginning the process of digitization and of putting the images online for access by researchers, students, educators, and the public. I would strongly recommend any aspiring undergraduate plants nerds to check out the herbarium, learn from Beth, and maybe even start volunteering with the digitization project!
As an EcoAmbassador, for the past year I have been researching and trying to start an initiative for students to promote sustainability awareness in an “Eco-Representative Program”, otherwise known as the Eco-Rep Program. EcoAmbassadors each have a different project to focus on for the semester or the whole year, whether it be Crim Dell Restoration or leading Earth Week initiatives, and receive course credit for their project. All EcoAmbassadors meet once a month for class to report back on their projects, talk over sustainability as a whole, and discuss various readings related to sustainability.
For the first semester I mostly gathered my research. I talked to many faculty and students from other schools that already have their own version of the Eco-Rep program. I had some difficulties getting into contact with some schools, but most schools were excited to talk on the phone with me about their program. Each school was slightly different from the other in structure, but the main idea was still the same; to have Eco-Reps create sustainable programs and events to help educate their campus. There was one particular school where their program was breaking down, and taking those suggestions as things to *avoid* were especially helpful. Some schools have the funds to create the entire program within their sustainability department, and other schools have their Eco-Rep program integrated within other organizations, such as Residence Life or Greek Life, for additional support. I learned a great deal through all of the informational interviews, and there was a lot of information that I had to sift through.
Many options that other schools have were not going to be applicable to William & Mary, so in my project I tried to figure out what would actually work for our school specifically. The best idea that I could envision was an integration with Hall Council, where the dorm designated Eco-Rep would meet with Hall Council and help them to create events focused on sustainable dorm habits. After deciding on this idea, the next step was to try and involve those on campus. To encourage organizations to join in this program I wrote a manual detailing what an Eco-Rep is, the history of Eco-Reps, the goals of the program, and how the structure of the program would work. This was successful in the end, and now the Jefferson-Barrett Hall Council will be the first dorm to start the Eco-Rep program. Their Hall Council will be implementing a new executive position of “Eco-Rep” starting next school year, and will be following the ideas put forth in the Eco-Rep Program manual. I’m excited to help ensure that this first Eco-Rep role will run smoothly, and to hopefully see this role spread to the rest of freshmen dorms across William & Mary.
~ By Jennifer Dunn, Talia Schmitt, and Gracia Luoma-Overstreet
Members of the William & Mary Eco-Schools Leadership Initiative (ESLI) attended the Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference-Student Summit held in College Park, Maryland and co-hosted by the American University Office of Sustainability and the University of Maryland Office of Sustainability. ESLI members had the opportunity to present our work on sustainability at W&M and in Williamsburg, learn from others’ presentations about their sustainability projects at their respective campuses, and gain valuable insight about best practices in sustainability.
The opening plenary speaker of the conference was Mr. Preston Mitchum, an impressive young lawyer and adjunct professor at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies who works to advance the reproductive and sexual rights of women and girls. He is extremely focused on social justice issues, and reminded the conference that sustainability extends beyond just environmental issues and must also encompass social justice issues in order to create a society that will be happy and healthy. While the ESLI members agreed that they desired more discussion about environmental justice within social justice, all felt that it was inspiring to hear Mr. Mitchum’s call to action on social justice issues in order to make the world a better place.
ESLI members presented our work on sustainability through environmental education to attendees of our workshop, explaining the importance of environmental education and how our work benefits both our volunteers and the students we teach. We demonstrated one of lessons about adaptations by teaching and playing a game called Adapt Like a Cat with workshop attendees and they thoroughly enjoyed the game and our teaching style. We also had an open discussion about environmental education experiences and shared ideas about possible lesson plans for the future.
The workshops later in the day that ESLI members attended were very insightful about other universities’ sustainability initiatives, prompting thoughts about how we could help make W&M more sustainable using other presenters’ methods. One presenter from Southern Connecticut State University shared how she and her team were able to negotiate with the Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts on their campus to allow students to bring their own reusable mug to reduce waste from disposable drinking cups, something that W&M students wish we could do but have been told that we cannot. This campus’ efforts proved to ESLI members that this goal could be accomplished and provided insight on possible ways in which to do it. A student intern at University of Maryland’s Sustainability Office presented how UMD educated all freshman students about sustainability in a fun and informative way during their freshman year classes, prompting thoughts on how we could help support the Office of Sustainability and SEAC’s efforts to be included in freshman orientation seminars to educate students about how to live sustainably on campus and be aware of their impact on the earth. A teacher at Virginia Tech held a workshop about the philosophical aspects of sustainability and best practices for communicating sustainability in a way that is informative and convincing. This presentation was striking because it reminded attendees to think from the point of view of others, rather than from the environmentalist point of view, something that I believe all advocates for sustainability are sometimes guilty of.
The second plenary speaker was Ms. Brenda Pulley, Senior Vice President for Recycling at Keep America Beautiful. She shared her career path and the attitudes and methods that Keep America Beautiful have been using in order to successfully convince the American public that recycling is important and essential to maintaining a healthy ecosystem and a sound economy. Ms. Pulley was very encouraging to all attendees to continue to work on sustainability issues, providing a success story amid all the negative current events related to the state of the environment.
In conclusion, this conference was an excellent opportunity to discuss sustainability with peers coming from different perspectives and facing different challenges on their own campuses because of the open environment of the conference. ESLI members were able to discuss and share contact information with many of the conference attendees, and we hope to be able to broaden our network and W&M network of resources, examples, and ideas in order to make W&M a more sustainable campus for future members of the Tribe.
ESLI members having fun at SSCC 2017 From left to right: Gracia Luoma-Overstreet, Talia Schmitt, Jennifer Dunn
Recently I had the opportunity to attend the American Studies Association annual conference in Denver, Colorado. This year’s theme was “Home/Not Home: Centering American Studies Where We Are”….so there was no way I could not write about what was going on in my hometown of Flint, Michigan.
Skyline of Flint, Michigan. Personal photograph.
In my paper, “We Still Call it Home: Complicating the Flint Water Crisis,” I focused on providing a different narrative of the Flint Water Crisis, one that was much more full, complex, and multi-faceted than the accounts provided by the media. I twined together our history of crises (deindustrialization, state and municipal recessions, pollution, arson) with our responses to them. Because of these crises, Flint has fashioned itself into a hub of innovation:
Individuals have been urban gardening since I was a child. Now urban gardens cover entire city blocks.
The Flint Farmers Market offers free vendor booths to youth gardening programs and both allows fresh fruits and vegetables to be bought with food stamps and doubles the amount of produce that can be bought per dollar.
At the height of the arson spree, neighbors fought fires with garden hoses to supplement the skeletal fire crews the city could afford.
Community organizations and the University of Michigan—Flint rehab houses for individual, community, and educational uses. One such example includes the university’s Urban Alternatives House, which is Platinum LEED certified and explores environmentally sustainable construction and operation strategies.
Phytoremediation, a process utilizing trees to draw toxins out of contaminated soil, is underway in Chevy in the Hole, one of the most polluted ex-industrial sites in the city.
Specifically regarding the Flint Water Crisis, it was Flint residents, charities, and churches who first began organizing the massive water collectio and distribution efforts that allowed people to pick up cases of bottled water. Often a semi trailer full of water would pull up to one of these organizations, a call for volunteers would go out over the radio, and people would flock to help unload and stack the water. It was also Flint residents who distributed water door to door when the National Guard deemed several neighborhoods too dangerous to enter. Additionally, people throughout the city have responded with creative ways of dealing with the enormous numbers of empty water bottles, particularly through art and protest. One local artist traces children’s silhouettes, fills the outline with water bottles, and lights the plastic with LEDs to highlight the importance of water to the human body. The University of Michigan—Flint Early Childhood Development Center turned empty bottles into hanging chandeliers painted by the two- and three-year olds. The chandeliers have been hanging in the Flint Farmer’s Market and were auctioned off for almost $3,000. Finally, UM-Flint dance instructors choreographed a stunning display of what the water crisis has meant for adults with mental illness and developmental disabilities.
Water bottle chandeliers. Personal photograph.
UM-Flint Spring Dance Finale. Courtesy Mlive.
Attending this conference was a tremendous experience. For as much as Flint has been in the news, and for as egregious an affront to democracy and human rights the Water Crisis is, very few people are actually talking about it outside of the city, the state, and some activist circles. Thousands of scholars attended this conference, but mine was the only paper on the Flint Water Crisis.
It left me puzzled.
And it left me frustrated.
The Flint Water Crisis touches on issues which, at some point, communities across the United States and the country as a body must confront. Racist environmental justice policies continue to be implemented and carried out. The Rust Belt continues to decay and the soil and water contamination left by exiting corporations remains a hazard to the health and well-being of the residents both nearby and downstream. Neoliberal and austerity politics continue to ascend and become more normalized. And civil and human rights issues, including basic rights and necessities such as shelter, food, and access to clean drinking water continue to come under siege as local, state, and federal budgets are stripped of funding for infrastructural improvements and upkeep, environmental protection, and social safety nets. Perhaps most worrisome of all is the lack of productive and meaningful social criticism—quite simply, the absence of outrage—over the Flint Water Crisis.
What does this tell us about who deserves fundamental human rights, let alone civil rights? And how can we decry the human rights violations of regimes abroad when we are enacting violence against an entire population ourselves?
What does this tell us about our priorities as a country? And how can we, as a country, comport ourselves as the bringers of freedom, democracy, and wealth, when we invalidate local, elected governments through the implementation of “Emergency Managers,” and leave men, women, and children to suffer from the poisonous effects of lead?
And what does this tell us about the future? And how are we–how are you–going to respond?
About the Author
Jennifer Ross received dual bachelor degrees in Honors English and History, as well as her Masters in English, at the University of Michigan-Flint. She is currently a second-year PhD student in the American Studies Program at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Jennifer’s research interests include the structure and function of state power, neoliberalism, disaster literature, and American empire. Her upcoming dissertation will investigate how the fiction of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina served to first build and then critique the nationalist narratives of the counter-terror state.
The holiday season is always one of my favorite parts of the year. As a child who grew up under a Jewish and a Christian parent, I’ve had the great pleasure of being able to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, amidst bundles of foods, gifts, games, traditions, and love. Unfortunately, while it is the most wonderful time of the year, it is also the most wasteful time of the year. According to according to http://bgm.stanford.edu/pssi_faq_holiday_waste…
~Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period than any other time of the year. The extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage, or about 1 million extra tons per week!
~If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet.
~If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
~The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.
Upon discovering these unfortunate facts, I became determined to do something, namely the Sustainable Holiday Initiative. Pressed for time, all that I managed to do this year was hand out some fliers with some tips, as well as heavily encourage people to creatively wrap gifts (with newspapers, magazine pages, old T-shirts, old artwork pieces, etc.) and post pictures of them on social media with the hashtag #wmshi. I’ve also been spreading some of my personal favorite tips and suggestions:
~EAT LEFTOVERS! America wastes roughly 40% of its food per year, and a disproportionately large amount is wasted over large holiday feasts.
~MAKE YOUR OWN GIFTS! Why go out and spend a lot of money when you can make your own gifts for other people? You know your recipients better than the stores do!
~BRING YOUR OWN BAGS! Instead of picking up pernicious plastic bags from your holiday purchases, bring your own bags.
SKIP THE RIBBON! Gifts can still look beautiful without it.
~SEND E-CARDS! Just think of all the envelopes and stationery that would be saved.
Although participation has not been that high this year, this was more or less of a trial run to see how the idea would be received. Since most people seem to like it, I intend to expand it next year. Perhaps it would be good to have a competition through the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition to see which college could post the most creatively wrapped gifts. Or maybe expand it to the community in Williamsburg outside of the college. But whatever may end up happening, it’s always a gift to see people thinking conscientiously about their natural environment and resource consumption.
‘The person next to you is going to heal the world,’ said our first speaker. I smiled at the friends I was sharing a table with, knowing he was right.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the student summit at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)’s annual conference. While at the summit, I went to panels and talks on the links between art and science, on food waste and student-led compost programs, on southern energy policy, on marketing sustainability, and on the power of science to expose injustice. It was a day jam-packed with learning and warmth.
It was also a day full of many good questions, many of which I’m still mulling over.
What would you surrender to fight climate change?
How do we fight apathy?
Can emotions play a more central role in combatting environmental degradation?
What partners can help us get our message across?
How do we bring about continuity and continued student engagement?
What role does culture play in the transition to renewable energy?
What is climate change a symptom of?
I was initially surprised by how participatory the conference was. In the first panel on the links between art & science, we started by doing an exercise that allowed us visualize connectivity. We each chose a word that represented our homes and natural spaces, and then passed around a ball of string to people whose stories connected with ours. The resulting web was a lovely reminder of the links we often don’t see. In later panels, I quite enjoyed the breakouts, where we had wonderful conversations about to better facilitate participatory decision-making, and how to collaborate with other organizations to make our outreach more effective and intersectional.
Another highlight of the day was hearing the keynote speech for the larger AASHE conference, given by Marc Edwards, the professor whose research team was integral in exposing the Flint Crisis. He talked about the work he’d done in DC in the early 2000’s to expose lead levels in water supplies, and how that ultimately lead into his research on Flint water supplies that garnered significant national media attention. Although there’s significant criticism of Edwards, most of which rests on the ways in which his role as spokesperson took agency and credit for progress away from the residents and community leaders in Flint, he nevertheless had many useful lessons to impart. As he reminded us, ‘you’re judged by how you treat your most vulnerable.’
Perhaps the most important part of the conference was something more ephemeral and less concrete than a specific speech or panel. Broadly, it was powerful to be surrounded by so many people who are fighting the good fight. I’m constantly wowed by the sheer amount of energy people bring to sustainability efforts. It was revitalizing to spend the day in Baltimore learning from and with people who also hope to heal the world.
Whether it’s a cardinal on the terrace picnic tables or a Red-tailed Hawk coursing through the trees on your way to class, hopefully you’ve enjoyed the opportunity to observe some of the dozens of bird species visible throughout campus. If you have been around this summer the warblings of bluebirds and numerous nests bustling with newfound life have become part of the background of your campus environment. Although you may not have noticed them as much as the shorter weekend night lines at Wawa, these denizens of campus are indicators of the lively avian community reliant upon campus landscapes. Soon, though, these fervent residents will begin their fall migration to southern latitudes and in their stead a whole new bird community will replace them. Just as William & Mary has a different human community come August it will also have a new bird community. Some such as the Blackpoll Warbler will be traveling from as far away as Western Alaska. For species like these our campus is a critically important resting area as they wing their way as far south as Brazil. Unfortunately, for nearly all migrants their journey is never as romantic as the writings of Rachel Carson and others have described.
“There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds… There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter…” –Rachel Carson
More and more the symbolic and actual beauty of migration is vanishing as the journey becomes a gauntlet of increasingly frightening challenges. Habitat destruction and climate change are rapidly rendering long-honed migration instincts outdated. There are, however, a few lethal pressures on birds that DO NOT require multinational legislation or burdensome economic policies. Bird window strikes are one of those easily fixable problems*. And with estimates of up to 1 billion birds killed per year in the US alone of the approximately 20 billion in all of the country, we can no longer afford to continue on this trajectory. Sometimes saving birds leaves us in difficult situations such as when leaving a productive wetland intact means a housing community cannot be built. In comparison, the issue of preventing birds from hitting windows is relatively simple. Within the past couple of years easily applicable films have been developed to reduce reflections from windows to a point where birds no longer see the appealing habitat “behind” the window and therefore no longer strike the window. These films may be applied to any window and the film is easy to install. The best part? Every time a window is outfitted with this film, birds’ lives are saved. The effect is that straightforward, that instantaneous and that simple.
The top window has been treated while the bottom has not. Notice the difference in the reflections.
This spring a Green Fee awarded to Professor Dan Cristol and students Ohad Paris (Graduate program ’17) and Megan Mass (Undergraduate ’18) funded the application of treatments to windows in the Swem courtyard, on the southwestern side of the library building. For the past three years students have been monitoring birds killed at windows on campus and this was the most lethal area killing an estimated 25-30 birds per year. Taken over the life of the now 50-year-old building, that combines for a saddening number of needlessly taken lives. As you walk to Swem from the direction of Ukrop Way take a look at the windows surrounding the courtyard, in all likelihood you won’t notice any difference, at least right away, and that is the beauty of the project. The birds notice it, we don’t and everyone goes on with their lives.
What you can do
Join me and movements across the country in doing what you can to prevent window strikes. A list of links with more information are at the bottom of this post. If YOU would like to help on campus email the Bird Club of William and Mary. Right now we are gathering data to figure out where the next windows we should treat are.
On a side note, if you do look carefully you will notice that some of the windows are not as reflective. Right now two windows have been treated, but keep an eye out for the installation of the last five as migration, and bird collision frequency, increase come the end of August.
*An in-depth look
Birds and windows have obviously not evolved in tandem. The time required for birds to adapt to challenges posed by windows is, unfortunately, orders of magnitudes longer than the 150 years or so that glass windows have been in widespread use. When birds fly around they are typically looking for one of three things: water, food or shelter from predators and the weather. Often this means they are looking for trees and bushes. There are three major problems when this desirable habitat comes in close contact with structures that have windows. The first issue is that birds cannot readily discern the difference between a reflection of a tree and the sight of a real tree. The second problem is that birds don’t see like humans do; their eyes are positioned on the side of their heads as opposed to the forward facing eyes of humans. This means they are less likely to be able to detect an obstruction directly in front of them. Finally, more than 90% of the birds that hit windows and succumb to the associated severe brain trauma are migrants not familiar with the local windows. In contrast, local birds very rarely fall victim to windows. This means that fall and spring, when millions of birds migrate, are far and away the most dangerous and lethal times of year on the William and Mary campus and around the world.
Below are some pictures and commentary of a few of the species that have been found under windows around campus.
Black-throated Blue Warblers breed throughout the northeast and are commonly found migrants in May and September campus
In the late winter large flocks of more than 200 Cedar Waxwings eat every single berry on campus
Common Yellowthroats are another migrant seen in brushy areas on campus. They make their home across North America along waterways and in wetlands
Rusty Blackbirds are a globally threatened species that makes its winter home on campus where it subsides on the crushed acorns in front of Swem and on Ukrop Dr.
Song Sparrows nest in the bushes across campus and are often the first to sing in the spring
Gray Catbirds make their home in berry thickets where you may have caught glimpses of them making their namesake mewing call while picking berries
Northern Parulas are one of the 28 or so species of warblers that pass through campus in the spring and fall every year on migration
The closest Painted Buntings can reliably be found to campus is in South Carolina, but they sometimes stray to Virginia
The classy Black-and-White Warbler is one of the first warblers to arrive in the spring and last to leave in the fall. One even spent the winter in Colonial Williamsburg in 2014!
The documentary The Messenger, available on Netflix