The National Audubon Society and its local and state groups actively advocate for bird-friendly building. A recent incident in Texas when hundreds of birds collided with a glass building has brought the issue to the forefront.
With spring in full force, birds are migrating north for the summer months. But any number of manmade obstacles may stand in their way.
What we need to do is use incidents like this to help us really get people to realize that this problem is real, but also this problem is largely preventable.
During a recent rainstorm, migrating songbirds collided with a 23-story building in Galveston, Texas, resulting in the deaths of 395 birds. But advocates from the Audubon Society say the incident could have been avoided.
“It’s the big incidents like this that get people’s attention, but birds are hitting buildings and other structures in ones and twos and fives and tens pretty much every day,” Audubon Minnesota Conservation Program Manager Joanna Eckles said. “So I think what we need to do is use incidents like this to help us really get people to realize that this problem is real, but also this problem is largely preventable.”
Songbirds tend to migrate at night, using stars, the horizon line, landmarks, and earth’s magnetic field to navigate. But brightly lit areas can disrupt their navigational cues and draw them to areas where they’ll be in greater danger of colliding with buildings. Then, once in the midst of buildings, birds may see clear or reflective glass and try to continue flying into the habitat or sky beyond.
To be bird-friendly, cities first need to limit nighttime lighting. “By reducing lighting we help birds that are trying to do this incredible navigation, but also help every other creature that needs it to not be so bright, needs dark skies and the natural rhythm of day and night,” Eckles said.
Builders should also use products or glass with visual patterns, reduce the amount of glass used or the glass’ reflectivity, or incorporate structural elements in front of the glass to prevent birds from colliding with these structures. For buildings already constructed, patterned surface films can be added.
“It’s a real problem, and this incident in Texas shows us that,” Eckles said. “And it’s a preventable problem, and it takes these creative ways of thinking and collaborative work between the biologists and professionals in the building community, but also in government … to bring solutions forward that will ultimately help across the board.”
The state Audubon societies and local chapters of the National Audubon Society encourage this collaboration on community-building projects. Eckles explained that the local organizations give educational talks to architectural firms, associations, and conventions on bird-friendly design “so architects get an exposure to this problem and then their solutions can be even more creative than ours.”
In addition, the groups advocate for bird-safe construction regulations to local, state, and federal lawmakers. For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used the Audubon Society’s work to distribute building best practices; Audubon Minnesota worked with a state university to create design regulations and the city of Minneapolis to implement ordinances for glass skyways; and groups in California have collaborated with municipalities and Silicon Valley companies to find solutions.
“You have to be open to all of those ways that you can make a difference on it, either voluntarily through the education or through the regulation,” Eckles said. “I think many of us are thinking that more and more it has to come down through regulation, because so often we don’t know about an issue until a building is quite far along in its design and you see a rendering of it … And by then, there’s been so much extent and thought that’s gone into the design, that it’s much more difficult to change.”