A Year in Review

One little bird started it all. For Michael Mesure, FLAP Canada’s Executive Director, keeping birds safe in urban areas has been the focus of his life for the last 30 years. At the beginning of the New Year, I sat down with Michael to look back on 2019 and look forward to FLAP’s plans for 2020.

Photo: Michael Mesure

Lisa Horn (LH): 2019 saw a lot of depressing news about the state of bird populations in North America. How do you stay motivated in the face of this constant barrage of bad news?

Michael Mesure (MM): I have mixed feelings about this news. A part of me is more frustrated than depressed because these predictions have been out for a long time. But oddly, I also find myself more motivated because with this grim news we see an increase in support to help address these issues.

When you look at the issue of bird-building collisions, there’s a tremendous amount of progress taking place. Recently we’ve seen the news of New York City following the lead of Toronto and passing mandatory bird-friendly requirements for new and existing construction. We’re seeing the adoption of more and more guidelines and standards across North America. Behind all this grim news, there is progress which is a clear indicator that we are moving in the right direction, at least for the bird-building issue.

LH: Tell me about FLAP’s biggest achievements in 2019. What were you most excited about personally?

MM: There were two major achievements in 2019. First and foremost was seeing the release of the Canadian Standards Association’s Bird-Friendly Building Design standard. This was in the works for 2 years and FLAP was one of 25 technical committee members that helped write it. Now that the standard is out there, there’s a template for any municipality across the provinces to point to and adopt in their community.

Then there was Global Bird Rescue. It was our second year for this event and we were very pleased with the results. We saw almost double the number of participants from the previous year, with 52 teams from 8 countries. We managed to educated thousands of people across the globe and we’re looking forward to seeing the event continue to grow in 2020!

LH: Speaking of bird rescue, after over 30 years you still regularly volunteer your time doing bird rescue patrols. What is this experience like for you after so many years?

Black-throated Green Warbler – Photo: Lisa Horn

MM: It’s a mixed bag of emotions. In one regard, you’re painfully reminded of how this problem continues and how big the problem is, and yet you can turn the corner at a building where you once found numerous dead and injured birds to see bird deterrent markers applied to their windows, resulting in much fewer birds being found. It’s a reminder that there’s still a heck of a lot of work to be done but it’s beautiful to see the accomplishments being made.

LH: As of January 1, the updated Toronto Green Standard (Toronto’s sustainable design requirements which include measures to reduce bird-window collisions) has officially taken effect. What does this mean for birds in the City of Toronto?

York University bird-friendly window treatments. 5 cm by 5 cm spaced dots on the outside of the glass – Photo: Lisa Horn

MM: There will be two stages to this update. In 2020, we’ll be looking at an increase in the density of the markers, going from the current 10 cm by 10 cm spacing to a 5 cm by 5 cm spacing. Then in 2022, instead of allowing for second-surface or interior window film treatment, it’s going to become mandatory that all treatments are on the outside surface of the glass. The City of Toronto will see more birds being saved through these tougher measures.

LH: Where do you see FLAP headed in 2020?

MM: We have multiple priorities for the year. Internally, one focus will be revisiting our volunteer program to explore better ways to utilize the skills and time of our volunteers while also making it a rewarding experience for the volunteer themselves. We’re also going to be enhancing our volunteers’ bird collision database in an effort to capture more consistent, thus scientifically viable records. Each collision record will also be automatically inputted into the Global Bird Collision Mapper, saving volunteers time from having to enter their records twice.

Another main focus area will be continuing our advocacy work to push for mandatory bird-safe building requirements at a much larger scale. We’re also going to be looking at continuing to build momentum around our Global Bird Rescue event, as well as enhancing our BirdSafe Building Risk Assessment Protocol.

LH: You mentioned FLAP’s volunteer program earlier. In what areas do you see there being a particular need for volunteers in 2020?

MM: People most often come to us wanting to volunteer as a bird rescuer, but there are so many other aspects of what we do that we could use volunteer help with.

An example would be in IT. FLAP is trying to implement new technologies that could enable us to meet our mandate to keep birds safe but we don’t necessarily have the knowledge or resources available to take it to that next level. So we’re looking for volunteers with a technical background who might be able to help us with things like keeping our website up-to-date or who are knowledgeable in working with ArcGIS which runs our Global Bird Collision Mapper.

We also need people in fundraising. Recruiting volunteers who are interested in spending their time helping raise money is difficult, and yet it’s one of the most crucial needs for a not-for-profit’s survival. We’re also eager to find people with a communications background that can help us enhance our brand and better communicate our messages. These skills are crucial to help us build confidence in people to invest their hard-earned money in our work.

LH: If you could encourage people to do just one thing to protect birds in their area this year, what would you tell them?

MM: That’s a tricky one because there are so many things one can be doing. But if it came down to what’s going to give us the best results, it’s all about power in numbers. The more people that complain about birds dying from hitting windows, the more likely we will see things change.

This can include expressing your concerns to municipal, provincial and federal elected officials. It involves putting yourself out there by writing these audiences or knocking on their doors and saying “I want this problem stopped!” You can also express your concerns at your workplace by approaching individuals responsible for managing your building. Create a united front by rallying support from your colleagues. People often underestimate how much influence they have at creating change as an employee or tenant.