When Birds and Glass Collide
Each migration season, millions of birds die in cities by crashing into buildings. Now a growing trend toward sustainable design could open the door to safer passage.
Meanwhile, there are beneficial interim fixes. The City of Toronto, the City of Chicago, and New York City Audubon have published bird-friendly building guidelines that they hope architects, developers, building owners and managers, and even home-owners will adopt during new construction or renovation. Toronto's 46-page "Bird-Friendly Development Guidelines" has a companion rating system with a checklist that outlines building strategies that take bird safety into account. Chicago intends to distribute its two-page "Bird-Safe Building" design guide to developers engaged in talks with its Department of Planning, and New York City Audubon handed out its "Bird-Safe Building Guidelines" at Green Build 2007, the premier sustainable design conference, presented by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The comprehensive, 57-page booklet offers a medley of ways to help prevent bird strikes. Some are as simple and inexpensive as drawing the blinds. Others can be more costly, such as installing fritted glass, which adds about five percent to the overall cost of a window. To make fritted glass, tight patterns, such as dots or even more complex designs, are burned onto the pane in the manner of a silk screen. Those patterns create "visual noise" that break up glass transparency to alert birds of the barrier. The booklet also recommends participation in lights out campaigns--an approach pioneered by the Toronto-basedFatal Light Awareness Program, or FLAP, whereby city high-rises turn off bright exterior lighting and, in some cases, unnecessary interior lights between 11 p.m. or midnight and dawn. Chicago Audubon and Audubon Chicago Region, New York City Audubon, Detroit Audubon and Michigan Audubon, and Audubon Minnesota, and Massachusets Audubon have all helped introduce lights out campaigns.
There are energy savings, too. "It's what we call a win-win-win situation: The planet wins, the birds win, and your bottom line wins," says Fred Charbonneau, a leader of Detroit Audubon's lights out program, Safe Passage Great Lakes. "There's no downside." As for glass, fritted patterns can block out rays of sun, thereby cutting down on cooling costs, as in the case of the science center at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. The college installed fritted glass into the center, a notorious bird killer, four years ago. The project cost $20,000 but has saved the college about $48,000 in cooling fees since then. "That's really what good, sustainable, integrated design is--solving multiple problems with single solutions," says Hillary Brown, author of "Bird-Safe Building Guidelines" and a principal architect at New Civic Works, an architectural firm focused on environmentally friendly building design.
If bird safety is to become a mainstream sustainable design concept, however, it will depend on establishing a set of definitive standards. In early June, Brown and representatives from the ABC, New York City Audubon, and the Bird-Safe Glass Foundation (a consortium of various conservation groups) met with members of the USGBC to discuss how specific topics related to bird safety could be incorporated into LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Engineering Design), the council's certification system that sets the benchmark for green building design in the United States. "It shouldn't be negotiable," says Cotton of the ABC. "If you're going to call a building sustainable, it just simply can't be this enormous collision risk for birds."
Cotton and others hope that the USGBC will integrate their suggestions--many of which are based on "Bird-Safe Building Guidelines"--into LEED 2009, the council's newest edition, which it will announce in January. Currently, LEED standards don't explicitly address birds, although the Sustainable Sites category does offer a credit for "Innovation and Design" that can be awarded based on bird-friendliness. Goldman Sachs & Company received three such points for 30 Hudson, its high-rise in Jersey City, New Jersey. The building, which was designed by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli, features fritted windows, faceted glass, and metal grillwork that, in concert, break up the facade, making it more legible to birds.