There’s more than just an aesthetic value to the new installation — it’s just one of many tactics the on-campus group is using to avian lives.
In late July, Bird-Safe Campus at uOttawa paired up with local artist Maria Gomez Umaña to install a brand new mural on campus. Students and staff can find the window-fixed art in the walkway between SITE and Colonel By Hall.
At first glance, passerbys might assume the mural is little more than an aesthetic fixture. Made entirely out of white oil-based paint, the design heavily features elements inspired by engineering and sustainability, such as solar panels and wind turbines. But the artwork has more than just decorative value: it helps break up the reflective surface of the walkway’s windows to help minimize the number of bird collisions.
Of the estimated one billion avian deaths from bird collisions that occur yearly across North America, Safe Wings Ottawa suggests “an estimated 16 to 42 million of those deaths are in Canada, and perhaps 250,000 or more in Ottawa.”
Since their creation in 2020, Bird-Safe Campus at uOttawa (BSCUO) has played a crucial role in educating the U of O community about bird mortality, research and prevention. The primarily volunteer-staffed group is an initiative of Safe Wings Ottawa. It was forged with the support of FLAP Canada, TD Environmental Leaders, and the University of Ottawa.
Window murals are just one of many small-scale solutions that Safe Wings Ottawa suggests. Oil-based markers and high-contrast colours ensure both longevity and visibility in different lighting.
“We use murals as a way for birds to be able to identify that there isn’t a clear surface that they can fly through,” explained Ryan Wong, project lead at BSCUO. “These murals help birds to visually identify that this is not a surface that they can fly through, and that is not trees — it is indeed a reflection of trees, and that they can collide and be concussed and be injured and perhaps die.”
BSCUO opened their call for artists campaign in mid-June, urging local artists of all ages and levels of experience to submit designs centered around a theme of engineering and innovation.
The artist was selected not only based on the visual appeal for the design, but for the functionality of it, as well.
“There actually are quite a few guidelines,” Wong explained. “So for instance, designs and brushstrokes have to be within two inches by two inches in distance, so that birds can properly identify that.”
Ottawa-based artist Maria Gomez Umaña was selected from the applicants. Also a local art teacher, Umaña’s creative work has been featured in a number of galleries and shows both locally and internationally.
When it came to installing the mural design, 12 of BSCUO’s volunteers worked in a rotating schedule right alongside the artist. It took the team three full days to complete.
The mural comes almost exactly one year after Bird-Safe Campus at uOttawa initially began their mural campaign on campus. In July 2021, they teamed up with a different local artist, Vanessa Hum, to create the mural that adorns the windowed walkway between Morisset Hall and the Jock Turcot University Centre. That mural took the artist and a smaller team of seven volunteers over four days to finish.
Though BSCUO runs year-round, they take on a higher number of volunteers during two particular seasons.
“During peak migratory seasons, which would be in the fall, and also in the spring, we open up more opportunities for on-campus patrolling,” said Wong. “So what that would be is in the morning, on weekdays, perhaps maybe two times a week, we would have pairs of individuals visit high risk areas around the campus.”
“Those positions are open for all students who are eager to help out and of course, all help and any help is very valuable. And it really helps to keep the spirit and its energy alive.”
Fifth-year environmental studies student Michelle Christy has been a volunteer with the group since March of this year. According to her, the best part of their work is seeing their progress first-hand. “Whether it’s the completion of the mural or seeing a fellow volunteer find and help a hurt bird, there is always something positive that comes from volunteering with this group.”
“[BSCUO] offers so many different volunteer roles. It’s easy for anyone, no matter your skills or interests, to find a fun way to help out,” said Christy. “It’s also a great way to meet other students with similar interests, even if you’re studying completely different things.”
The group uses more than just patrolling volunteers to keep track of injured birds and collisions. Public community members can also report injured birds and bird collisions via the Safe Wings Ottawa website, or through their emergency phone line.
For more information on Bird-Safe Campus at uOttawa, you can visit their website and online blog.