Cut Down on Avian Carnage With New Bird-Safe Building Guidelines

Courtesy of Audubon Minnesota

Say a building touts itself as green, boasting low-flow faucets; a rooftop, organic garden; and lots of natural light. So far, so good. Now, what if that building’s also a bird-killer? Is it still eco-friendly?

“[Architects and their clients] can use all the recycled material they want, they can save all the energy they want, but if their building is still killing birds, it’s not green to me,” Daniel Klem Jr., an ornithologist at Pennsylvania’s Muhlenburg College, told me several years ago. I was writing about bird collisions with windows, a global problem. At least a billion birds die annually from striking clear or reflective glass or plastic in the U.S. alone. The toll worldwide is far greater, making such collisions the second biggest manmade threat to birds after habitat loss.

Building strike fatalities. Photo by Joanna Eckles/Minnesota Audubon

So, what’s a green-committed building or homeowner to do? Incorporate bird-friendly design. There are a number of publications to help, the most recent being Audubon Minnesota’s Bird-Safe Building Guidelines, a revised edition of a 2007 version created by New York City Audubon. The detailed 40-page document describes various problems that buildings pose to birds and offers way to fix them—for both new construction and retrofits.

And keep in mind that the dollars you spend incorporating avian-sensitive design can be beneficial to other species. From the guidelines:

Birds are an ideal focus of community wide conservation efforts because they are a sentinel of overall environmental health. Stewardship strategies that benefit birds and their habitats also benefit a myriad of other plants and animals. These strategies go beyond those related to buildings and infrastructure just as birdfriendly design includes more than glass and lighting choices.

Toronto, Canada was the first city to mandate that all new construction be bird-safe. Chicago, too, is on a campaign to make its environs more conducive to birds. The Windy City's Aqua Tower, a relatively new high-rise created by Studio Gang Architects, is an example of how avian-friendly design can be seamlessly incorporated into a cool residential building. The edifice "resembles eroded cliffs, with organically shaped balconies flaring out irregularly from the underlying rectangular tower," reports the Financial Times. "To fence in the terrace, the designers convinced the developer to use fritted glass (etched with grey dots) and pickets spaced at 4-inch intervals, thereby preserving views while making the barrier visible to birds." And in Minnesota, Minneapolis Central Library has also relied on an array of techniques to protect our feathered friends, including a variegated, curtained facade that creates "visual noise" to alert birds of glass barriers, as well as angled glass in its central atrium to reduce the reflection of sky and vegetation, which tricks birds.

Which city will be next in making a commitment not just to the safety of its terrestrial inhabitants, but to the winged among us?

“The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of Audubon. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.”