Last Wednesday, Michael Mesure woke at 4 a.m., bundled himself up, and headed downtown with a backpack and a net to scavenge for dead birds. He’s done this hundreds of times in the past 24 years, since a friend offhandedly mentioned the growing problem of bird-skyscraper collisions in 1989. Of all his outings, the most memorable—and traumatic—was one of the first, on May 16, 1990.
“It was life-changing, being exposed to so much death,” he said of that drizzly, foggy morning. Thousands of birds had smashed into buildings in the thick fog, littering the sidewalks below. “I would bend down to pick one bird up, and thwack! [Sometimes], a bird would hit the window above me and fall onto my back. They were dropping everywhere—raccoons and seagulls were carrying them away.”
The problem, as The New York Times reported last month, is that Toronto remains among the world’s deadliest cities for migrating birds. Our skyline is essentially a giant wall of reflective glass hundreds of feet tall and miles wide at the shore of Lake Ontario, in the middle of several migratory paths.
In 1993, Mesure founded FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program) with other bird lovers. He’s now the executive director, advocating for legislation to make buildings bird-friendly.
Wednesday’s patrol was one of the year’s last. Jaywalking across pre-dawn streets and making a beeline for problem spots, he followed his own internal map of the financial district’s most lethal buildings. A good chunk of the patrol focused on the Toronto-Dominion Centre complex. The elegant modernist masterpiece by architect Mies van der Rohe is also an avian death trap, all reflective windows and glass-walled linkway, into which birds fly and get trapped.
“I’ve seen dozens of birds at this building some mornings,” he said, checking out a revolving door (injured birds often take refuge inside them). TD Centre is a listed heritage site, however, so making any alterations is a non-starter.
The only bird Mesure found was an uninjured thrush hopping around a barren patch of dirt in an empty planter in a small TD Centre courtyard. “He’s looking for food,” said Mesure, “but he’s not going to find any there.”