Green Practices: Bird-Safe Buildings

Bird-Safe Building Guidelines

New York City Audubon has just published Bird-Safe Building Guidelines, a 55-page manual for architects, landscape designers, engineers, glass technicians, developers, building managers, city, state, and federal officials, and the general public. It reveals the magnitude of bird-collisions with glass and describes the conditions that cause these deadly collisions.

Bird-safety in buildings is integral to the "green" sustainable building movement, and the guidelines suggest strategies that complement the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating system. The guidelines also suggest ways to retrofit existing buildings. NYC Audubon's Bird-Safe Building Guidelines are an important resource for all people in the building and design industries as well as policy makers.

Chicago's Lights Out Program

Chicago is the first U.S. city to dim tall building lights to save birds' lives. Through the "Lights Out" program, Chicago's tall buildings have all turned off their decorative lights during spring and fall bird migration, putting them in the forefront of American cities taking action to help birds.

In a great display of civic concern and responsibility, all buildings cooperate with the program by dimming their decorative lights for almost 5 months of the year, making 'Lights Out' a real success. Field Museum researchers estimate that the program saves the lives of more than ten thousand migratory land birds each year. Now coordinated by the Chicago Audubon Society, the program is a cooperative effort between the City of Chicago, the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago, Audubon, and the Field Museum.  

Fatal Light Awareness Program

Guided in part by the constellations, they are attracted to lights shining from skyscrapers, broadcast towers, lighthouses, monuments and other tall structures. The birds either flutter about the light until they drop from exhaustion, or actually hit the object. Fog, rain or low cloud can make the problem worse. Approximately half of the birds found die from their injuries suffered in the collision. Many require medical attention. Head trauma, broken beaks and feather damage are typical injuries.

The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), a registered charity, was formed in April 1993 to find a solution to the problem. FLAP documents bird kills, rescues survivors of collisions, and developed Lights Out Toronto; their website includes a page on solutions.

Window Collisions

Birds can easily fly around obstacles in their habitat but they are not prepared for invisible obstacles like panes of glass. Today, the danger of collisions is increasing. Studies have shown that per year and building at least one bird dies, presumably many more because the number of undetected cases is very high. Often collisions happen where it was not expected.

Even when birds do not seem to show any injuries after colliding, one half of these individuals die later due to internal bleeding. Almost all groups of birds are affected, with rare and threatened species among them.

A Window Collisions site is available in English, German, French and Italian. It includes a bibliography, product information, solutions for different kinds of applications, links to news articles and more.

Research compiled by Christine Sheppard, Ph.D. 2/2008

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