Architecture for the Birds

Architects design buildings for the people who own and use them, but there are other considerations. A relatively recent concern is the impact manmade structures, including private homes and skyscrapers, have on birds.

The American Bird Conservancy estimates that as many as one billion birds die each year in the United States from collisions with buildings, with glass being the primary point of contact. The group is one of several organizations educating the public about this problem and proposing solutions.

Members of the Centerbrook Sustainability Committee recently viewed a webinar on this topic led by, among others, Keith Russell of Audubon Pennsylvania. He pointed out that birds have excellent peripheral and color vision (much better than ours) but inferior depth perception. They also take the reflections on glass literally.

Studies have shown that most collisions occur during the day and that the species most affected are brightly colored songbirds. Nighttime accidents do occur and can be reduced simply by killing or at least dimming “vanity lighting” – lights that serve no practical purpose for inhabitants or security – during the fall and spring migratory seasons. Certain types of landscaping also can be an attractive nuisance for birds by mimicking, in combination with glass, a natural setting that birds try to traverse.

Awareness of this issue led the US Green Building Counsel to offer a LEED credit for Bird Collision Deterrence. It emphasizes creating “visual noise:” establishing patterns on glass that birds can recognize using color, texture, opacity, or ultraviolet materials. Screens on the outside of the windows are helpful, too. Keeping openings small and reducing the quantity of glass correspondingly lowers the incidence of bird strikes.

Our offices are located along a small river and millpond, and our fringe benefits include sightings of various avian species, among them: Black-crowned Night-herons, Goldfinches, Song Sparrows, Cedar Waxwings, Great Egrets, Osprey, Baltimore Orioles, Belted Kingfishers, and Great Blue Herons. Facilities Manager Bill Rutan reports that bird collisions are not an issue here, that, in fact, a number of species make their nest on or about the building.

As with other sustainable features, “bird-friendly” approaches can be integrated seamlessly into building design without sacrificing style or increasing costs. It is another option for clients to consider, one which can become a point of pride.