Big Becky, one of a group of peregrine falcons nesting on a skyscraper in the core, has died after hitting the 27th-floor window of 1 Financial Place. She was only a few weeks old.
Linda Woods, a Canadian Peregrine Falcon Foundation volunteer who's been tracking Big Becky and her siblings since they hatched this spring, didn't see the accident, but she's witnessed enough to picture it. Window collisions are the number-one cause of death for the city's fledgling peregrine falcons. Young peregrines don't know what a window is until they hit it. About half die instantly from head trauma. "They hit quite hard. It's amazing that they don't go through the glass," she says.
The foundation has had to pick up Big Becky's brother, Sir Adam , twice already when he also hit skyscrapers. Three of Toronto's nine falcons have died from collisions this year.
Although the falcons are special because they're considered a threatened species, they're far from the only skyscraper fatalities. According to the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) , between 940,000 and 9.4 million birds die each year after hitting skyscrapers in the GTA, either mistaking the reflections in the windows for open sky or trees, or drawn to the lights at night.
CollideEscape, a film coating similar to that used for bus and GO Train advertisements, decreases the reflections. But those who own towers downtown have been reluctant to retrofit their buildings with the material because it's expensive and takes away the glass's sheen.
Says FLAP executive director Michael Mesure , "Right now the lives of these birds are [valued] less than aesthetics."
But despite the participation of more than 100 buildings in FLAP's voluntary Bird-Friendly Building program, overall "the lighting reductions have been minimal" and "not one [office building] has had noted reductions" in bird collisions, says Mesure.
The city's Lights Out! campaign will try to improve the situation this fall with a public awareness campaign. But it won't be enforced by a bylaw - even though that would not only go a long way toward saving birds, but also turn down the heat on the current energy crisis.
"I think gentle persuasion is more happily received," says planning division communications coordinator Richard Bishop .
Says Jim Ohlman, operation manager at 1 Financial Place , "We make sure our lights are shut down at a reasonable time, and we ask people to keep the blinds down."
In Big Becky's case, good intentions were not enough.