Star Tribune to birds: ‘Drop dead’

Nashville warbler after downtown St. Paul window strike (Tim Nelson / MPR News file)
If we had to guess — and we do since editorial writers don’t sign their names to their work — we’d guess the writer of today’s Star Tribune editorial is the same person who wrote the instant classic Strib editorial on Thanksgiving telling Target employees forced to work at midnight that they should just be happy they have a job at all.

The target of the Strib’s ire today? Birds, specifically the ones that might fly into the new palace for the Minnesota Vikings, whose builders and benefactors have refused calls to install glass that’s a little less likely to attract migrating birds.

It’s been a pretty big joke for the football crowd, a group that is often portrayed as being a little slow on proven matters of science and nature. Lighted buildings at night pose a risk for migrating birds; that’s proven. That’s why the Empire State Building — and even buildings in downtown Minneapolis — douse the lights during migrating periods.

It’s just a question of whether one thinks birds are worth investing the time and money to protect. One either does or doesn’t.

Put the Star Tribune in the “doesn’t” category with its editorial which says, basically, “No big deal. They’ll make more birds. If they don’t die here, they’ll just die somewhere else.”

The addition of one glassy building in Minneapolis won’t appreciably alter the mortality rate of the North American bird population. As the numbers suggest, it wouldn’t be unusual for birds to occasionally strike the building. But those collisions would barely register on a very long list of ways in which humans routinely interfere with nature.

This sounds callous, but individual bird deaths from collisions are almost meaningless as long as bird populations remain constant. To say it another way, a bird escaping death by collision is almost sure to die soon from something else, whether storm, poison, starvation or some other danger. “People keeping their cats indoors would have a far greater impact on bird survival than whatever happens with the stadium,” said University of Minnesota ornithology Prof. Robert Zink.

Truth is, no one knows how the stadium’s design will interact with birds along the Mississippi Flyway until it’s up and running. To single it out as a “cathedral to bird killing,” as some critics have already done, is hyperbolic.

The sports authority’s point about keeping the clear glass isn’t about the $1.2 million it would take to replace it. It’s about a promise made to Minnesotans — and especially to neighbors in Downtown East — that the new stadium would not be an ugly blight on the cityscape, as the Metrodome clearly was.

The bird enthusiasts are not impressed.