Seeking Sites for Avian Conservation Research

Steve M. Chorvas

I am forwarding the message below to the listserve on behalf of Bruce Robertson, an avian ecologist at Bard College (Dutchess County).  If interested, or if you have any questions, please respond directly to Bruce (contact info at end of message).
Steve M. Chorvas
Saugerties, NY
From Bruce Robertson:

I'm currently in the second year of a State of California-funded research project designed to understand the basis for the large-scale phenomenon of bird collisions with solar panels. I've been doing this research locally, on wintering songbirds here in the Hudson Valley, and in the yards of kind citizens who volunteer the use of their yards for about a week. I'm writing because we are seeking more citizens with interest in helping with the project in the next 1.5 months.  

Information for the project is included below, but in short we are looking to place a bird feeder or some heated bird baths on the grass at the edge of some woods where we can attract birds to interact with our experiments. And we are most limited on sites for the bird bath experiment because it asks citizens to allow us to plug in these heated bird baths into some exterior power supply for a few days, and many people don't have exterior power supplies.


Volunteer your yard or property as a site for a Bard College research project

Over the past few years, an increasing number of migratory birds are found dead at utility-scale solar installations in the California desert. The USFWS estimates that somewhere between 18,000-83,000 birds may die each year by either colliding with solar panels or wandering through the hot solar flux near collecting towers at solar-thermal facilities.

Why should birds be attracted to solar panels? 

Much of the sunlight hitting the solar panels is absorbed and converted to electricity. Due to the color and smoothness of solar panels, the light that bounces off, however, becomes ‘polarized’. This means that the light is forced to start vibrating in a horizontal direction, only. When you view a lake or river, the light reflected from the surface (glare) is also polarized and fisherman that wear ‘polarized’ sunglasses can block this bright and polarized light and see into the water more clearly. Water has always been the primary natural source of polarized light on earth and many animals (e.g. aquatic insects) that need to locate water bodies to breed, drink or hunt have evolved eyes capable of seeing polarized light and so finding water even from great distances. Birds may also locate lakes via their polarized light signature and this may explain their attraction to solar panels in the desert. They may mistake solar panel fields for lakes where they can drink and/or rest. When they descend to investigate they collide with the panels. In ecological science, such  deceptively attractive, but dangerous habitats are better known as ‘ecological traps’.

What are the goals of our research?

It is our goal to test this ‘lake effect’ hypothesis. In this first of two years of the NY portion of our research project, we will conduct three experiments that, together, will answer the following questions:

1)      Can songbirds see horizontally polarized light and are they attracted to it?

2)      Do songbirds perceive smooth, shiny objects (i.e. simulated solar panels) as water bodies?

What kind of experiments will we do?

We would like to conduct 1-2 of our 3 different experiments on your property.

Experiment 1 (4 way bird feeder): We will place a bird feeder near the forest edge, leaving it for 2-4 days until the local songbirds have discovered it. Each feeder has a base, or landing platform, that reflects wavelengths of light with particular degrees of polarization in the visible and ultraviolet range. A single observer will return to refill the feeder, then early the next morning to record which feeders are visited most frequently and by which species. We will infer their relative attraction to each surface based upon their frequency of visits. We will then remove the feeder with the experiment complete.

Experiment 2 (modified bird baths): We will place a modified upright bird bath in your yard and near the bushes or tree line where we will also place a bird feeder, affixed to a tree. The bird bath will be full of water, but it will be adapted so that its basin is coated with materials of that variously absorb or reflect different types of light. Above and next to this feeder we will place motion-activated cameras designed to record avian visits to different portions of the bird bath. The cameras will be closely focused on the bath and won’t record activity outside of the experiment. The bath will remain in place for 3-6 days. An observer will visit your property ~4 times: 1) to set up the study, 2) to change the camera batteries and fill the bird feeder, and 3) to remove the equipment.

Which experiment will be done on my property?

Your property may be suitable for more than one of these experiments, but we will only conduct 1 or 2 on your property. This is because birds have the opportunity to learn the difference between real and simulated water and this learning could bias the results of any future experiments.

Who is funding this research project?

The project is funded by the State of California’s Energy Commission as well as a generous contribution from five different utility-scale solar energy companies working in California.

Interested? Please send us an email! We’ll arrange a time to speak with you about the possibility.

So if I were writing and I wanted to stop the sentence at this point and it dies it on its own.

Bruce Robertson, Associate Professor of Biology, Bard College (broberts@...)

Olivia Rothberg, project manager (orothberg@...).


Bruce Robertson

Director, Bard Ecology Field Station

Associate Professor of Biology

Division of Science, Mathematics and Computing

Bard College

30 Campus Drive

Annandale-on-Hudson, New York 12504

Email: broberts@...

Office: 845-752-2332



Some links to stories on my research

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