Saving Birds By Design

Reflective glass high-rises kill millions of birds each year, but bird-friendly design can save birds and reduce energy consumption.

January 6, 2022, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Architects know how to stop birds from flying into buildings, writes Alexandra Lange—but "those standards clash with the big glass and big views that clients associate with big money." To prevent birds from mistaking reflective glass windows for trees or open space, designers can use patterned glass, exterior screens, and reduced lighting. But according to Kate Orff of architecture and design studio SCAPE, an emphasis on giant glass panes has turned Manhattan into "a giant bird killer." 

During last September's fall migration season, volunteers with NYC Audubon's collision monitoring project documented hundreds of bird strikes at the World Trade Center, and a heightened interest in birdwatching during the pandemic has led more people to pay attention to, and want to save, urban birds. 

In early 2021, New York City implemented legislation that mandates bird-friendly design in new buildings and requires city buildings to turn off nonessential lighting at night during migration season.

The best example of a bird-safe retrofit, from the point of view of scale and effectiveness, is Manhattan’s Javits Center, which spent five years replacing the convention center’s clear glass with panels covered in tiny ceramic dots as part of a $500 million environmental retrofit that also added a 6.75-acre green roof. Almost imperceptible to the human eye, those dots nonetheless cut bird death by 90% — and energy consumption by 26%.

The article points out that bird collisions don't just happen with high-rise buildings, but there are low-cost changes homeowners can make to reduce bird strikes at home, such as safety netting or patterned window films.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022 in Bloomberg CityLab

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