Today, we tend to like our wildlife behind glass, whether that's at a zoo, in an aquarium or terrarium on the table, or on the TV or computer screen. Perhaps taking this idea to the extreme, an upscale developer in coastal Southern California has plopped a new neighborhood in a beautiful wild setting, only to wrap it in a nearly mile-long glass fence to keep out the wildlife.
Now, that fence is embroiled in a bitter controversy in Huntington Beach, California, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. The planned 350-home, 68-acre development by Hearthside Homes is on a mesa overlooking wetlands, near Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. At issue is the fact that conservationists say at least a dozen birds have died in the past few weeks after colliding with the glass wall around the development.
Wildlife advocates say at least two harrier hawks, a mourning dove, a yellow rumped warbler and a hummingbird are among those killed. "You could not build a better passive bird killer in a better spot than they did here," Scott Thomas, conservation director for Orange County's Sea & Sage Audubon, told the Times. Thomas now offers walking tours of what conservationists are calling "the wall of death."
Experts say it is not so much the wall's transparency that confuses birds, but its reflective properties. In this case, it is also placement, and proximity to popular roosting trees.
Each year, between 100 million and 1 billion birds die from hitting glass, according to Daniel Klem Jr., an ornithologist at Pennsylvania's Muhlenberg College. "Short of habitat destruction, this is the most significant source of bird fatalities in the country," Klem told the Times.
Representatives of Hearthside Homes say they are not planning on removing the wall, which was built to mark the boundary between backyards and public open space. Glass was used to preserve views of the wetlands, while trying to keep wildlife out. The company claims the bird kill problem has been "blown out of proportion." They say a temporary chain-link fence, adorned with yellow construction tape, has stopped the kills.
The developers say they are planning a brown windscreen on the fence, and that once all the homes are built, they will be further deterrents. Birders disagree, however.
These kinds of battles are likely to increase as the U.S. population continues to grow, and sprawl ever outward into declining wilderness areas. It's clear we need to learn to live more in harmony with our surroundings.
As far as glass, if you want to view animals through it, why not live in a skyscraper, which has a much smaller ecological footprint than a massive new development? If you are going to live on a mesa overlooking wetlands, why not welcome into your yard the occasional raccoon or rat snake? Not to mention birds.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.