New York Is Poised to Require Bird-Friendly Glass on All New Buildings

Each year, up to a billion birds in the United States die from glass collisions

Gull flies in front of NYC skyline
New York is the largest city to implement legislation requiring bird-friendly construction. Photo by Gary Hershorn/Corbis via Getty Images

Earlier this year, a sobering study revealed that nearly three billion fewer birds exist in North America today than in 1970. Collisions with buildings, experts say, is a major cause for the decline—and now one of the most bustling urban centers in the United States is trying to do something about it.

As Ryan F. Mandelbaum reports for Gizmodo, the New York City Council has approved an initiative requiring new buildings and major renovations to meet construction standards that will reduce the risk of bird collisions. The legislation is “to date, the most broad-reaching bird-friendly building policy in the country,” according to the New York City Audubon. Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the bill into law.

One reason that birds slam into buildings is because they become confused by glass surfaces, which reflect their habitat or the sky. Sometimes, our feathered friends will try to fly through glass because they can see their habitat or sky on the other side. Most collisions occur below the first 75 feet of a building, Molly Adams, advocacy and outreach manager at NYC Audubon, tells Mandelbaum.

Proposed Initiative 1482B thus requires that 90 percent of the first 75 feet of all new building exteriors or major exterior renovations be made with materials that birds can clearly identify—like glazed or patterned glass, reports Karen Matthews of NBC New York. These materials cannot exceed a threat factor of 25, as determined by the American Bird Conservancy’s Bird Collision Deterrence Material Threat Factor Reference Standard. Clear glass, according to this assessment, has a threat factor of 100, but numerous modifications can bring that number down.

“Bird-friendly building design should not be seen as an add-on or an extra,” says Christine Sheppard, director of the American Bird Conservancy’s Glass Collisions Program. “Many strategies for controlling heat, light, and even security can be bird-friendly strategies, too. These can be incorporated into almost any building style, but should be built into project design from the outset to minimize additional costs. That’s why this kind of legislation is so important.”

Though it may not seem like an avian hotspot, the Concrete Jungle is in fact located along the Atlantic Flyway, one of four major routes that birds follow as they migrate between nesting and wintering areas. During the spring and fall seasons, New York City birders can spot a wide range of species, from orioles, to warblers, to golden eagles. But according to Caroline Spivack of Curbed, collisions become particularly frequent during this period. The NYC Audubon estimates that between 90,000 and 230,000 birds die in the city each year after hitting glass during their migrations.

The new initiative comes as a particularly welcome development after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed legislation that would have led to the creation of a council for devising bird-friendly design regulations across the state. The collision problem is, of course, not limited to New York; the American Bird Conservancy estimates that up to a billion birds in the United States die from glass collisions each year. Several California cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, already have bird-friendly construction standards in place. But New York is the largest city in the country to implement such requirements, Matthews reports.

Bird lovers and conservationists hope other metropolises in the country will take their cues from the Big Apple.

“It’s a landmark decision,” Rita McMahon, director of New York’s Wild Bird Fund, tells Spivack. “What the Council did today is going to save thousands of lives, and hopefully, other cities, builders, and architects will follow New York City’s compassionate lead.”

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