Loyola University Chicago

Institute of Environmental Sustainability

Student Operation for Avian Relief (SOAR)

Top Photo

Every spring several million birds fly through Chicago as they head north to breed, returning again in the fall as they fly south to wintering grounds. Many of these birds pass through Loyola’s campus, especially during the early morning as they fly in off the lake. Although these birds navigate over thousands of miles they are not good at perceiving glass, making them very susceptible to window collisions. Loyola’s campus has several buildings that have extensive glass in their facades, including the Information Commons, Sullivan, Halas, and Norville. Birds frequently collide with these buildings, and these collisions are usually fatal.

Middle Photo

A selection of the birds recovered from Halas and Norville during fall migration 2014

The Student Operation for Avian Relief (SOAR) is a student-lead effort to make campus safer for migrating birds. SOAR has two main activities. First, every morning during the fall and spring migrations volunteers walk campus before sunrise, and again immediately after, to collect birds. Injured birds are transported to the Willowbrook Wildlife Center for assessment and, if possible, rehabilitation and release. Dead birds are recorded, identified, and then taken to the Field Museum where they are added to the research collection. See the Birds page for more details about the birds found.

SOAR’s second main activity is to partner with various groups on campus to reduce the risks posed by Loyola’s buildings. When the project began in spring 2012, students quickly realized that the most dangerous buildings were the Information Commons, Norville Athletic Center, and Sullivan. SOAR has worked with the Campus Facilities department to alter operations at the IC and Sullivan, and this has drastically reduced bird deaths. SOAR is now working with Facilities and Athletics to find solutions for Norville. The new Halas building, which includes a large glass covered atrium, opened at the end of summer 2014. It is now the most dangerous building on campus for migratory birds, and SOAR will begin working with develop solutions. See the Buildings page for more information.

A Brief History of SOAR

SOAR began in spring 2012 when students in Prof. Reuben Keller’s class decided to begin research about bird collisions on Loyola’s campus. Classes taught by Prof. Keller and others have continued the work every semester since, with several dozen students having taken part. Throughout the project we have received extensive support from the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, and we continue to coordinate closely with them.