Cruising one day along Commonwealth Avenue in Fullerton, CA, I noticed a sequence of fallen birds that were either decayed or decaying on the sidewalk. It seemed to be the result of a complex context; an intersection of natural habitat and built (man-made) artifact (in this case a tunnel with a vehicle underpass and train overpass). So I thought to myself, built environments almost always have to interact with and react to their context. Whether it is regarding the slope of a site, or natural soil conditions, or even existing natural habitats: animals, flora, fauna, etc.
As I continued my strides, the picture got even worse with a continuation of bird carcasses and bird droppings which culminated at the picture to the left of a stealth net mesh on top of steel beam flanges (a bad design). At this point I realized why bad designs create bad contexts. Here, the wrong choices resulted in potential hazard to the public and to the natural cycle of life. And, there are diseases and other associated risks with an accumulation of bird droppings and human contact at the site. Hence the problem, here, is that bad design is causing birds to die and dead birds are inevitably affecting human life; further destroying the design; a cycle.
To find the cause of the fallen Orange County Birds (birds like the Common Loon, Common Peafowl, Common Moorhen, or Common Pigeons) littering the sidewalks I noted three sources of problems in the design of the tunnel: a lack of a successful bird-friendly tunnel design, the openings in the tunnel roof structure, and wind from the turbulence generated from cars and trucks moving through the tunnel. So, birds are living in the tunnel and are dying from either being trapped by the nets or from being struck by cars/wind as they move in and out of the tunnel. Next, the turbulent winds from vehicular and train traffic carry the potentially hazardous airborne particulate matter from the bird droppings to people and other livestock around.
“Once airborne, spores can be carried easily by wind currents over long distances. …contaminated airborne dusts can cause infections… in the fall of 1978 and spring of 1979, an estimated 120,000 people were infected, and 15 people died… even when old and dry, bird droppings can be a significant source of infection.” (Department of Health and Senior Services: Http://www.state.nj.us/) Examples of some bird diseases include Histoplasmosis, Candidiasis, Cryptococcosis, St. Louis Encephalitis, Salmonellosis, E.coli, etc)
As I kept walking under the bridge I noticed that 3 main building materials (Concrete, Wood, and Steel) were being directly affected by bird droppings. Specifically, bird droppings mixed with uric acid and fungi decomposes the wood at the nets, the acid then corrodes the steel beams and leave deposits on the concrete walls (Image to the left), then the deposits weaken and erode the concrete walls through small cracks.
To solve this potentially harmful problem that is slowly affecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public (Birds, Pedestrians, Cyclists, Motorists, etc) a proper habitat should be provided for the birds in the tunnel, the tunnel should be closed off and proper remediation work should be done to clean the site and surrounding areas, people that have come in contact with that area should be tested, the roof structure at the tunnel should be closed off, and, a better bird-friendly tunnel design should be proposed, scrutinized, and implemented.
Finally, a better bird-friendly design would help prevent harm to the birds, to the people, to the site, and to the tunnel over time. Personally, I would not include spikes or electric bird deterrent systems in any proposed bird-friendly designs as I have seen the harmful results of these types of systems on local birds (missing legs, missing claws, etc). Sometimes coils and carefully placed nets can be a partial solution to this complex problem. A better alternative would be to use a more holistic approach while being sensitive to practical issues (like cost, time, etc). Also, this type of system-based approach has to take into account the reality that the birds also belong there. A commonality-based system design strategy that is inclusive of the common birds of commonwealth.
All photos by Daniel Ebuehi.
Birds and their droppings can carry over 60 diseases – MediLexicon International Ltd., MedicalNewsToday.com
Birds of Orange County, California – Peter J. Bryant: nathistoc.bio.uci.edu/birds/
Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health Program – Christine Todd Whitman and Christine M. Grant, JD, MBA www.state.nj.us/health/eoh/peoshweb/pigeon.pdf (2010)
Damage to Building Materials Caused by Bird Droppings – Rob Fergus, Bird-B-Gone, Inc
Why is Bird Control So Important? – Avian Control Solutions, LLC
Animal Architects: Bowerbirds Design & Build Showy, colorful Homes to Attract Mates – Hipstomp, Rain Noe (2014)
Form Follows Feathers: Bird-Friendly Architecture – Ted Smalley Bowen, Architecture Record (2008)
Bird-Friendly Building Design – Dr. Christine Sheppard, Michael Fry, Michael Parr, and Anne Law, American Bird Conservancy (2011)
Standards for Bird-Safe Buildings – San Francisco Planning Department (2011)
Sky-Hish Design: How To Make A Bird-Friendly Building – American Bird Conservancy (2012)
Bird-Friendly Design – Green Building Alliance