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American Society of Landscape Architects


November 2005 Issue

Fatal Attraction
Planting fruit-bearing trees near buildings with reflective windows can be dangerous for some birds.

By Joseph Okoniewski

Fatal Attraction
Joseph Okoniewski

The choice of plants for a project can have unintended negative consequences for local or transient wildlife. As a biologist with the Wildlife Pathology Unit (WPU) of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, I investigated two incidents in the Albany, New York, area last fall that grimly illustrate a problem concerning a popular flowering tree and the birds attracted to its fruit.

In late October 2004, the wpu received a call from an anonymous worker in a building located next to a nature preserve. The caller reported that an unprecedented number of birds were flying into the windows of the building. When I arrived at the scene, the nature of the problem was immediately apparent. First, the building featured large windows with highly reflective tinted glass—virtual mirrors. Second, a row of ornamental crabapple trees (Malus SPP.) heavily laden with small, juicy fruit was situated about three meters from the side of the building facing the natural area. Third, the thin, high-pitched calls of cedar waxwings, perhaps the most frugivorous bird in North America, could be heard from the trees along the nature preserve boundary.

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