Rivers are highways for migrating birds. And the Ottawa River that flows alongside its eponymous city is a migration corridor for nearly 150 species. During the spring and fall migrations, thousands of geese and ducks, shorebirds and loons use the Ottawa River as their wayfinder. And the forests adjacent to the river teem with migrating landbirds like swallows, warblers and sparrows. It’s fitting, then, that Canada’s Centre for Geography and Exploration at 50 Sussex Drive, perched at the swirling confluence of the Ottawa and Rideau rivers, will incorporate bird-friendly design to protect these birds on the move.
The five-storey headquarters of Canadian Geographic and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society is primarily glass, which makes for spectacular views over the river, but poses two key dangers for migrating birds: transparency (birds think they can fly through it), and reflectiveness (birds see their own habitat reflected back at them). So, in 2020, the National Capital Commission, which owns the property, teamed up with the Society for a project at 50 Sussex to retrofit the building according to its Bird-Safe Design Guidelines. (The guidelines were developed by the NCC in partnership with FLAP and Safe Wings Ottawa.)
”For 50 Sussex, it is [window] decals, because the main risk to birds is the windows,” says Sophie Robichaud, NCC’s sustainable development programs officer. Other NCC-owned buildings might need to be retrofitted in different ways, she explains, including measures such as capping large vent shafts.
The decals, created by Toronto-based manufacturer Feather Friendly, were applied to the exterior of the windows in 50 Sussex’s upper gallery (right), and follow criteria — pattern density, size and contrast — deemed most effective at preventing collisions from all sizes of birds. This spring, following a hiatus due to the pandemic, decals will be added to all the windows on the main gallery and two lower levels of office space.
The NCC has assessed almost 200 of its buildings and will continue to retrofit high priority buildings this summer and fall.