How to design bird-friendly buildings

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Few things are more dangerous than buildings when it comes to bird health. In reality, only cats kill more birds per year. Even so, collisions with buildings cause the death of 100 million to 1 billion birds every year. From an ecological and structural point of view, it is clear that this is a problem that needs to be tackled.

From new projects under construction to the renovation of existing sites, bird-safe buildings are vital for the environment. Fortunately, advances in glass technology and various legislative measures are the cause. With that in mind, here is BUILDINGS‘ guide to a bird-safe building.

[Related: Bird-Friendly Building or Avian Abattoir?]

Why are buildings so dangerous?

By far, glass is the biggest culprit in the danger of buildings. For every additional 10% of glass coverage, bird strikes increase by an additional 19%. And as glass buildings continue to fill skylines, bird mortality will only increase. However, make no mistake about it, high-rise buildings are not the main culprits. Buildings 10 stories or less account for the vast majority of collisions. In fact, 44% of all building-caused bird deaths occur with buildings less than four stories high.

Glass is dangerous for two main reasons: transparency and reflectivity. The first one confuse the birds to believe that there is a clear passage to fly. Unfortunately, birds don’t understand the concept of a window; all they see is a lack of construction. Consider a corner office with windows on each side. To a bird, this will appear as a clear passage. Other threat factors for glass include:

  • Reflections that create confusing optical illusions
  • Attractive settings for birds behind glass, including gardens and trees
  • Create disorienting light sources at night

In fact, lighting is the second leading cause of bird building incidents. Not only do unshielded lights cause light pollution, they can also attract or disorient birds during their flight. This can bring them closer to dangerous glass. Birds that migrate or travel at night are at additional risk. As they usually navigate by stars, artificial lights can disrupt migration patterns.

The threats are severe. For this reason, guidelines have been established to improve bird safety in building materials and designs.

How to ensure bird safety?

To be a bird-safe building, your facility must meet set standards. The US Green Building Council has established these criteria as part of the LEED rating system. This rating takes into account an element’s threat factor for birds in its rating. Objects with high threat factors are not safe. This includes materials such as clear glass and unshielded lights.

According to American Conservatory of Birds, “bird friendly” is defined as having a threat factor value of 30 or less. This rating is correlated with a reduction in strikes of at least 50%. For a building to be bird-proof, 90% of its facade material (for the first 40 feet) must have a threat factor of 30 or less. Above 40 feet, 60% of the materials must meet the requirement.

So which materials meet these guidelines? Specially designed windows are the first line of defense. Patterned glass is a simple way to reduce impacts almost immediately. Studies have shown that birds are not likely to fly through spaces less than 2 inches tall or 4 inches wide. Therefore, glass models that follow this rule can achieve a low threat factor. Patterned windows may have UV reflective properties. This creates patterns invisible to humans, but visible to birds. A simple roll of duct tape can be used to achieve similar results.

Likewise, opaque windows and even stained glass achieve lower threat values. If a bird cannot see through a window, it is unlikely to attempt to fly through it. Additional items for bird safety and harm reduction include:

  • Sintered windows with ceramic dot patterns to radiate light
  • Nets, screens and shutters that hide transparency and cushion impacts
  • Non-toxic optical gelthat reflects UV light to redirect birds
  • Strategic courtyards or rooftop gardens to give birds a safe space away from glass areas
  • Opaque lights and blackout programs to reduce light pollution

A vessel can obtain its bird safety rating by any combination of these means and, in doing so, earn LEED 55 pilot credit for bird safety. It is this LEED certification that underscores the true importance of bird-friendly buildings.

[Related: New York’s Bird-Friendly Glass Policy is a Game-Changer for Buildings]

Why are Bird-Safe buildings important?

Birds are more than just flying animals; they are vital for ecological well-being worldwide. Birds are among nature’s most capable cleaners. A vulture, for example, is responsible for more than $10,000 in trash removal.

They also contribute massively to pest control. Birds eat 400 to 500 million tons of insects each year. As such, they protect crops and help control pest populations.

Birds help in many other ways, including:

  • They are excellent pollinators, with 5% of all plants eaten by humans pollinated by birds.
  • Likewise, they spread seeds to continue the ecosystems. In some regions, they are responsible for up to 70% of a region’s growth.
  • They protect the ecological balance by eating destructive herbivores that consume essential vegetation.
  • They fertilize coral reefs with their powerful guano and help keep rats away from islands.

Most importantly, bird-safe material is lower costs, and has already been shown to be economically viable in new projects. In fact, in many cases, opting for bird-friendly designs represents Less than 1% total costs. And as more attention is paid to the importance of bird-safe buildings, expect these prices to continue to drop.

Striving to reduce ecological damage is at the forefront of the building industry. From reducing emissions to water quality, the building sector has a significant impact on the environment.

Fortunately, the industry is also at the forefront of beneficial change. Between continued legislation and clear evidence of a protected environment, the time for transformation has come. Bird safety is within reach of most building owners. With bird-proof glass and other facade features, this goal is easier to achieve than other environmental measures.

About the Author:

Matthew Zajechowski is the Director of Media Relations at North Star Inbound. Matthew is passionate about writing, content creation, and sustainability and animal safety. Matthew received his bachelor’s degree in marketing from Western Michigan University.

Read next: How to protect your building from birds – for good

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