Why Should Birders Be Worried About the New Vikings Stadium?

Minnesota's pro football team just announced that they won’t use bird-safe glass on its new window-heavy stadium. Here’s what you need to know about the decision.

The design for the new Minnesota Vikings football stadium is striking—perhaps literally so. The glass-enclosed stadium is likely to be a deadly obstacle for birds because the Vikings will not spend an extra $1.1 million to use bird-safe glass on the billion-dollar project.

Here’s what you need to know about the stadium issue.

What’s the problem with glass?

Birds are unable to distinguish glass from the natural sky, so they crash into the reflective surfaces, often with deadly consequences. In fact, ornithologist Daniel Klem Jr. estimates that bird strikes kill at least a billion birds per year in the United States. A billion birds is about 5 percent of the country’s total bird population, making bird strikes the second-leading manmade threat to bird populations, after habitat loss, says Klem.

The Vikings stadium design, featuring 200,000 square feet of exposed glass, was first unveiled to the public in May 2013. Since then the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) had been working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Audubon Minnesota to determine how to make the structure safer for birds.

“The amount of glass on the building is equivalent to about four football fields,” says Matthew Anderson, executive director of Audubon Minnesota, noting that the stadium is being built within a mile of the Mississippi River, a major flyway for migrating birds including the Ovenbird, Nashville Warbler, and White-throated Sparrow.

How can we stop birds from flying into the glass?

To improve bird safety, the Audubon Society recommended that the stadium use a specific type of glass that is glazed with a pattern that allows the birds to see it. Anderson noted the MFSA plans to purchase the stadium glass from a Minnesota-based company that produces the bird-safe glass as well. 

“This is an opportunity to get it right from the beginning, rather than addressing the problem once we’ve collected a bunch of dead birds,” Anderson said.

So what happened?

The MFSA declined a final meeting with Audubon and on July 17 announced that they would not be using the bird-safe glass, Anderson said. 

“We were able to adopt operational guidelines used by other downtown office and residential buildings, we were unable to change the design and do not have the budget to include the $1.1 million needed for bird safe glass,” the MFSA wrote in an online statement.

Is $1.1 million a large part of the budget?

Of course a million dollars is a lot of money. But the sum is less than one-tenth of one percent of the stadium’s total price tag. The original budget was $975 million, but it increased to more than $1 billion.

Additionally, last month, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reported that the team would pay $1.3 million extra for 1,200 more televisions in the stadium, and an additional six escalators, so that people could stay connected to the game while buying concessions. An additional $1.2 million went to doubling the size of the video board and adding more video walls in premium seating.

Did taxpayers pay for part of the stadium? Do they have any say?

Nearly half of budget—$468 million—will be financed through Minnesota’s sale of bonds, Bloomberg reported in January.

The state has building guidelines that offer extensive protections for birds, including mandating that materials meet specified safety standards, high-risk surfaces comprise less than 15 percent of the entire surface area, and buildings follow “Lights Out” management programs. Lights Out programs encourage turning off lights in tall buildings, which can be particularly distracting, and deadly, for migrating birds.

“The B3 Guidelines are required on all projects that receive general obligation bond funding from the State of Minnesota,” according to the state’s website.

These guidelines went into effect on May 1, 2013, after original proposals for the stadium were drafted, so it’s currently unclear whether the structure will have to adhere to them, Anderson says.

MFSA’s statement notes that the design was complete “prior to changes in state guidelines related to bird-safe glass.”

So what’s going to happen?

Construction is already underway, and streaming live on the Vikings’ construction webcam.

The stadium is slated to open in 2016, and will host the Super Bowl in 2018. Despite the decision to forgo the bird-friendly glass, the stadium is still applying for LEED Certification as a green building. 

What can I do?

Urge the Vikings and the MSFA to reverse course immediately and use safer glass. Send an email through Audubon here.