Supporting Bird-safe Buildings

Update 2/11/19: The Bird-Safe Buildings Act was refiled for the 2019 session – learn how you can help support it.

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When we hear about the impacts of development on birds, we probably think about habitat loss: cutting down trees to make room for new structures, or filling in wetlands. But did you know that the buildings themselves can also pose a serious risk to our feathered friends?

In the U.S., window strikes are estimated to kill up to 1 billion birds annually, and window strikes are one of the leading causes of death for migratory birds. During the day, the problem occurs when birds see their natural habitat mirrored in windows and fly directly into the glass, causing injury, and, in 50 % or more of the cases, death.  At night, especially during spring and fall migration, lights in and around buildings can confuse birds, leading to collisions or exhaustion as the birds circle the structure.

This imprint of a bird was left on a window after a collision. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons user StuartB4.

To reduce this threat, several cities in North America, including Boston, Chicago, and Toronto, have taken steps to reduce light from tall buildings during migratory bird season. In Boston’s case, this effort comes through the Lights Out Boston! program, on which we partnered with Mayor Tom Menino’s administration. We are hoping to revive our partnership with the City to expand the program. Though programs like Lights Out Boston! are an important step in protecting birds, they are voluntary.

As such, we’ve endorsed the Federal Bird-safe Buildings Act of 2017 (S.1920/H.R.2542, filed by Senator Booker [D-NJ] and Representative Quigley [D-IL]). This proposed legislation would require all new federal renovations or construction to incorporate bird-safe characteristics like reduced glass surfaces and shielding of outdoor lights. Under this bill, any glass that is used would have to be fritted, screened, shaded, or UV-reflective, qualities proven to reduce bird collisions. Other conditions include regularly surveying for stunned or dead birds.

Application of anti-bird strike film is one option for reducing collisions. Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

We reached out to our congressional delegation to request their support for this bill. You can help too, by asking your own US representative and senators for their support.

More locally, we submitted comments to the City of Boston on the planned renovation project at One Post Office Square. Boston is located along a major migratory bird pathway, and these migrants utilize small urban parks, including Post Office Square, as ‘stopover’ or resting habitat during migration. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird Project, 91 bird species have been observed at the site. A glass-clad building in such close proximity to a well-known bird habitat presents a clear hazard to birds. On top of this, it is important to avoid large, uninterrupted areas of reflective glass in close proximity to landscape features, since birds may be attracted to the plantings and unable to distinguish the glass reflections. We encouraged the Boston Planning and Development Agency to consider building façade and landscaping designs that minimize bird collision hazards.

In the future, we hope to see bird safety become more commonplace in development, through both regulations and incentives, like the LEED credit awarded for Bird Collision Deterrence.  The choice should be clear – but the buildings shouldn’t.