Bird-friendly building design spreads across America

The De Young Museum in San Francisco. Among its innovatory aspects is a decorative screen covering most of the windows that keeps the glass from being dangerous to birds, and helps control light and heat. Photo: Dr Christine Sheppard.
The De Young Museum in San Francisco. Among its innovatory aspects is a decorative screen covering most of the windows that keeps the glass from being dangerous to birds, and helps control light and heat. Photo: Dr Christine Sheppard.
The US state of Minnesota and the city of Oakland, California, are continuing a swelling trend of introducing bird-friendly architecture.

Oakland has adopted regulations similar to those adopted by neighbouring San Francisco in 2011, while Minnesota has instituted a 'Reducing Bird Collisions' programme. In Illinois, several counties and cities have similar existing or pending guidelines, and national legislation has now been proposed in Congress.

“There is a growing awareness of the very significant bird mortality that is occurring across the United States as a result of bird collisions with buildings,” said Dr Christine Sheppard, Bird Collisions Campaign Manager at American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “Studies suggest that as many as one billion birds die from such collisions each year. As ABC and other groups have raised awareness of the problem, we are seeing increasing interest among local governments, architects and developers regarding bird-friendly building design and how to foster it through mandatory and voluntary regulatory processes.”

Dr Sheppard worked extensively with officials in San Francisco to develop the city’s bird-friendly requirements. She has been presenting education classes on the issue to architecture firms across the country and authored the only national publication on the issue: ABC's Bird-Friendly Building Design.

Minnesota’s guidelines specifically recommend such things as planning deterrent facades for areas that attract birds, reducing bird collision hot-spots, the monitoring of bird impacts during the building’s first year and encouraging lights to be turned off at night.

Detail of the De Young Museum's facade, showing its anti-collision 'second skin'. Photo: Dr Christinie Sheppard.

Oakland’s Bird Safety Measures have now become part of the building permit process. These measures apply to all construction projects involving glass as part of a building’s exterior, and where a project is located immediately adjacent to a substantial water body or recreation area, or includes substantial vegetated, green roof, or green wall areas, or has substantial vegetation adjacent to it.

The innovatory measures require that a Bird Collision Reduction Plan be developed by every construction company involved in a project, which is then reviewed and approved by the city. The plan must include a series of mandatory measures, such as avoiding using mirrors in landscape design, avoiding placement of bird attractants near glass, and using minimum-intensity white strobe lighting with three-second flash instead of solid red or rotating lights, which serve as bird attractants. Bird-friendly glazing treatments are also necessary on no less than 90 percent of all windows and glass between the ground and 60 feet in height.

The measures also call for a reduction in light pollution that can attract night-flying migrants to the built environment. Specifically, the guidelines propose lighting reduction during migration, use of automatic timers, steps to reduce a building's internal light emissions, and unnecessary outdoor lighting.

The Californian Academy of Sciences in San Francisco has a substantial number of screens to prevent birds from crashing into the windows. Photo: M Flannery.

In Oakland, best management practices will include performing nightly maintenance during the day to reduce lighting, installation of blinds and shades, and encouraging employees to turn off lights and close window coverings at the end of the day.

Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley has introduced national legislation into the US House of Representatives that calls for each public building constructed, acquired, or altered by the General Services Administration (GSA) to incorporate, to the maximum extent possible, bird-safe building materials and design features. The legislation would require GSA to take similar actions on existing buildings, where practicable. The terms “bird-safe building materials and design features” are defined through reference to several publications addressing those topics.

No equivalent regulations yet exist in Britain, but the American programmes must point the way to which we might adopt similar procedures should a similar problem be identified. The BTO believes that up to 30 million birds may die in window or building strikes annually, but these figures have been disputed in some quarters. Certainly, cat predation is a bigger, though more awkward, problem that would have a more difficult solution.