The Problem on the Large Scale.

It is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the problem. But ornithologists tell us that perhaps a billion birds a year are killed by human related causes. First, there is habitat destruction and then there are windows. There is also the problem of radio and television towers, wind generators and other tall structures. A flock of birds migrating at night tend to fly toward the light and will be killed by the hundreds as they fly into lighted buildings.[2]

So what can be done? On the large scale, efforts are being made to make established buildings more bird friendly. In some cities, the lights on buildings are being turned off at critical times. In new buildings, designers are installing windows tilted downward so that they do not reflect the sky. UV-absorbing and UV-reflecting barriers on window coverings make the window visible to birds without interfering with the view of humans. Even barriers such as nets can be installed in front of the window to harmlessly catch the bird.

But for maximum effect, something should be done to cause the bird to change course. Dr. Daniel Klem of Muhlenberg College, [1] a leading researcher on the subject of avian mortality, has done controlled testing using a flight cage. A bird released in the cage can choose an unobstructed path or a path with objects on, or in front of a barrier. These various objects included vertical or horizontal lines, dots, UV material and decals. The effectiveness varies with the density of the objects. There were mixed results and I am being brief here but you can read about Dr. Klem's conclusions from these experiments as well as other relevant material in the links to the left.

And on a Smaller Scale...

We all like to feed the birds. Bird feeders are near houses and houses have windows and glass doors. The glass is invisible to the bird because images are carried by the light to the bird's eye either by passing through the glass or reflecting off of it. After all, they have evolved for a hundred million years without transparent barriers. But there is something else which has shared the environment with the birds for all that time - spiders, orb spiders. A spider builds a web to catch flying insects and a web that is nearly invisible will be the most effective for the purpose. On the other hand, a spider does not want a bird to fly into the web and tear it up. I am a mathematician, not a spider. If I were both, I would seek an optimal solution by balancing the two purposes. I would place a clearly visible object in the middle of the web which I think that birds will understand indicates the presence of a web. After all, birds certainly do not want to get that sticky stuff all over their feathers. And then I would park myself on top of the object (why have two visible objects?) and then I would arrange my legs together into four pairs to look a little less like something that eats bugs.[3] [4]

In about 1995 I was reading a scientific magazine when I came across an article based on a paper by Thomas Eisner and Stephen Nowicki entitled "Spider Web Protection Through Visual Advertisement: Role of the Stabilimentum"[5]. A brief abstract of the paper is as follows: The conspicuous white silken adornments known as stabilimenta, which are commonly found in the orb webs of some spiders, appear to be protective devices that warn birds of the presence of webs in their flight path. Webs endowed with artificial equivalents of stabilimenta tended to survive intact the early morning period when birds are on the wing; unmarked webs showed a high incidence of destruction (from Science Magazine, 1982). OK, go ahead and visualize a light bulb over my head. I immediately thought that this is the way to keep birds from flying into windows. Just put a stabilimentum on the window. This could be an invention.

The Invention.

I already owned one patent and for obtaining that I went through the usual process of hiring a patent lawyer and spending the money. I regularly read a magazine called "Inventor's Digest" and so I was familiar with the patent process. I bought a book entitled "Patent it Yourself" by David Pressman and began to write the application myself. The book told me how to file the various forms but was mostly about how to do technical writing. I was already pretty good at technical writing and so the whole process was easy and fun. Near the end, I did get some important help from the patent examiner herself on writing the "claims" - the most important part of the application. On Dec 31, 1996, Patent# 5588251 was issued to Sam W. Young entitled Device for the prevention of collisions of birds with transparent barriers[6]. The devise consisted of a window decal which contains an image of the center of an orb web with a conspicuous stabilimentum. I went to a local company in Auburn Alabama which prints decals and after some work, we were set up to print copies of the decals at a reasonable cost.

Then I learned of a backyard birding industry show taking place in Atlanta. I set up a booth at the show and entered my decal in the "best new product" contest. I did not win that but I showed off my new product to lots of people who own bird stores - stores where customers purchase bird feeders, bird seed, binoculars, etc. I took orders from store owners at the show and subsequently began a small mail order business. But also at the show I met representatives of two companies who were interested in the exclusive right to sell the decal. I eventually started my Limited Liability Company called Young Ideas and Young Ideas signed a contract with Droll Yankees[7] (motto: the world's best bird feeders) giving Droll Yankees the exclusive right to sell the decal which they call the Warning WebR. For several years now the Warning WebR has been available in bird stores where Droll Yankees products are found all across the US and Canada. If you buy one, I will make about 4 or 5 cents. This is not an advertisement.

Recent Developments.

The September 2010 issue of Birding Business magazine contains the following note in the Business News section: A German based Manufacturer called Glaswerke Arnold GmbH & Company[8] has developed Ornilux, a type of window glass that can prevent birds from flying into windows. The company worked with the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology to develop the product. The glass was designed based on research of orb spiders, which create webs with silk that has an ultraviolet reflection that prevents birds from flying into the web. The coating developed for the glass is barely visible to humans but obvious to birds. Currently, the only company in the United States to offer the Ornilux glass is Nana Wall Systems. [Correction: I have learned that Nana Wall is a customer of Arnold Glas and not a distributer of ORNILUX]

No mention of the stabilimentum and my patent says nothing of ultraviolet but very interesting indeed. I contacted Prof Daniel Klem, mentioned above, and here is part of what he sent to me: I thank you for thinking of me. I have long known about Arnold Glas' ORNILUX, but only recently established a formal contact and relationship with them. I am hoping my prediction is correct that their glass will be an effective deterrent for birds, but I will be able to confirm this interpretation by year's end when I complete my latest planned experiments to evaluate a sample of their latest version of ORNILUX, a sample that Arnold Glas provided to me. I hope you are having success with your web decal; your decal certainly works to save more bird lives, especially if applied in enough numbers to effectively alert birds to a clear or reflective window barrier.

I also hope that Dr. Klem's prediction is correct, don't we all? And I wish I could be there when he sets up his flight cage again to test the Ornilux. Maybe I could sneak over and place a little three inch white zigzag stabilimentum on the glass and see if it increases the number of diversions. I think it will. That is my prediction.

Sam W. Young, Nov 10, 2011 Sam's page Home