ABC Campaigns for Changes to Green Building Standards to Reduce Bird Strikes

Photo: Fatal Light Awareness Program

American Bird Conservancy is working to prevent bird collisions with buildings by advocating that green building standards include provisions that will reduce this threat, which kills millions of migrating songbirds each year.


ABC, the Bird-Safe Glass Foundation, New York City Audubon, and architect Hillary Brown recently met with the U.S. Green Building Council to discuss changes to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. LEED is the most widely accepted benchmark for environmentally-friendly buildings, but does not currently take bird collisions into account. In June, this coalition submitted suggested changes to the proposed LEED2009 standards, related to the design and operation of new and existing buildings. These recommendations were endorsed by the Chicago Audubon Society, Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, Birds and Buildings Forum, Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), and collisions expert Dr. Daniel Klem, Jr.


ABC also recently submitted comments to suggest bird-safe changes to the Green Building Initiative’s proposed American National Standard for Green Building. A similar group of bird-safe building advocates signed on to support these comments.


Glass windows and artificial night lighting have been killing birds since they were invented, but with the production of large panes of sheet glass, the construction of new buildings whose façades are made entirely of glass, and increasingly tall, brightly lit structures, bird mortality began to increase, and has been rising ever since.


According to Dr. Klem, some 975 million birds die every year from collisions in the United States alone. At night, migrating birds are attracted to, and disoriented by, the light emanating from the interiors of tall buildings and the outside vanity lighting and floodlights that point skywards on buildings of any height. Unable to view the stars by which they navigate, birds fly in circles within these “light fields” until they collide with each other or the building, or fall to the ground from exhaustion. The problem is particularly acute on nights with abundant low-altitude cloud cover or inclement weather. During the day birds are at risk from collisions with reflective and transparent windows, which they cannot see.


Illinois Institute of Technology. Photo: Mike Buesing

One of the unintended consequences of green building certification programs has been the promotion of large expanses of glass that increase daylight and reduce the need for artificial daytime lighting. This saves energy, but increases the danger of bird collisions. However, there are examples of high-performance green buildings that use large expanses of glass to admit daylight, but that are also bird safe because they incorporate additional architectural elements. For example, the New York Times Building is covered by a network of exterior ceramic rods. These external design elements create enough “visual noise” to warn birds away from the windows, yet provide daylight and views to the building’s occupants.


ABC’s goal is to integrate bird safety into the very definition of a green building, and to have this reflected in specific performance standards to reduce collision hazards. Such standards will encourage innovative designs by architects, and stimulate market-driven solutions to the problem by increasing demand for new products, such as glass that is visible to birds but not to people—perhaps the ultimate high-tech solution to bird collisions with windows.


It is clear that the debate should no longer be whether birds require these protections, but rather what are the most effective ways to design and operate buildings to prevent bird deaths. ABC will continue to work for bird-friendly buildings so they become the norm rather than the exception.