History in the Making: TD Centre Bird-Safe Retrofits a Testament to Our Collective Efforts

A FLAP volunteer patrols the TD Centre for dead and injured birds. Photo: J.P. Moczulski.

We at FLAP Canada were elated to hear the news of what will be the largest bird-safe building retrofit in North America (and possibly the world). Cadillac Fairview (CF), a Canadian commercial real estate company, will soon begin installing bird collision deterrent markers at their iconic Toronto-Dominion (TD) Centre in Toronto’s Financial District. This retrofit will save the lives of countless birds and will also challenge other commercial building owners to follow CF’s lead.

For us, the upcoming retrofits will be an especially emotional event. Bird collisions at the TD Centre are intricately tied to FLAP’s own beginnings. There is no denying that this milestone in bird conservation has taken time, perseverance, and the collective voices of many dedicated groups and individuals.

A Death Trap for Birds During the Day and Night

Toronto is on a major migration pathway for birds, and millions must pass through the area during their biannual journeys. The five sleek skyscrapers and bank pavilion that make up the TD Centre kill hundreds of these tiny travellers each year. During the day, the bronze-tinted glass on the towers reflects surrounding landscape and sky, and transparent glass surfaces are an invisible and deadly barrier. At night, the lit-up offices within the towers disorient and attract night-migrating birds. These factors make the TD Centre a death trap for birds.

Documenting the Victims; Rescuing the Survivors

One of the very first people to take note of the dangers posed by the TD Centre was Barry Kent MacKay, a writer and artist living in Toronto at the time. Barry and his mother began noticing extensive bird deaths when the first tower in the complex was completed in 1967.

Over two decades later in 1990, FLAP Canada’s Executive Director Michael Mesure had his own heart-wrenching experience at the TD Centre. “On a foggy morning in May, I was horrified to find hundreds of dead and dying birds blanketing the sidewalks in Toronto’s Financial District, many of them at the base of the TD Centre towers. This surreal event opened my eyes and my heart to the realization of how serious this issue can be.” It was this experience that, in part, sparked the creation of FLAP Canada, the first organization to address bird-building collisions.

Since 1993, FLAP volunteers and members of the public have recorded thousands of birds from over 65 species that had been killed or injured by the building complex. For example, in 2006 alone, over 1200 birds were found. Some of the victims were federally-protected Species at Risk, including Canada Warbler, Red-headed Woodpecker, Wood Thrush and Eastern Whip-poor-will. The true number of lives lost is undoubtedly exponentially higher, as volunteers only recover a fraction of birds affected.

An injured Red-headed Woodpecker (a Species at Risk) that collided with a building at the TD Centre. Photo: FLAP Canada.

Advocating for Change

FLAP Canada worked with TD Centre management through the 1990s to educate their tenants and staff on effective light reduction practices to reduce nighttime bird-window collisions. During this time, as the data began to highlight the much bigger threat of daytime collisions, FLAP also began educating CF about the daytime issue. One of the TD Centre towers even became a FLAP ‘holding station’ where maintenance and security staff, tenants, and members of the public dropped off dead and injured birds for pick-up by FLAP volunteers and staff.

At FLAP’s encouragement, CF and their tenants put some effort into nighttime light reduction at the TD Centre and retrofit a small, all-glass linkway with bird-safe window treatments. Bird rescue volunteers noticed a huge reduction in collisions at the linkway following installation of the window markers. However, hundreds of birds continued to die at the remaining massive expanses of untreated glass.

Mounting Pressure

The bird collision records collected by FLAP Canada and members of the public have sparked others to recognize the issue and the need for action. Over the years, other organizations have worked with FLAP Canada to help educate CF on the bird-building collision issue, including World Wildlife Fund Canada, the City of Toronto, Ecojustice (in the Podolsky v. CF precedent-setting case), Ontario Nature, and the Convenience Group.

More recently, a new community-led initiative called Bird Safe Buildings Across Canada drew on FLAP data from the Global Bird Collision Mapper and began targeting the TD Centre in a letter campaign to encourage them to retrofit their buildings. Their online petition has garnered over 75,000 signatures. 

Success and a New Path Forward

Although bird collisions with buildings represent a monumental conservation issue, there are simple solutions. CF’s decision to finally retrofit the TD Centre with bird-safe window treatments (in this case with Feather Friendly dots) will have the potential to save the lives of hundreds of migratory and resident birds every year. We applaud CF for making such a meaningful effort and setting the bar high for other commercial buildings. There are countless buildings in Toronto, and all the other cities, small and large, across Canada, which can – and should – follow CF’s lead.

The Ongoing Fight to Save Birds’ Lives

FLAP Canada would like to urge our supporters to join us in the ongoing fight to save birds’ lives. Speak up when you notice birds hitting windows at commercial buildings in your area. Document the birds you find by taking photos and adding them to the Global Bird Collision Mapper. Reach out to building management with your proof for concerns. Our individual voices can quickly become a collective chorus to achieve essential change, as we’ve seen in the case of the TD Centre.