NY Seeks to Reduce Bird-Collision Deaths Through Evolving Construction Standards

Every year, the movement patterns of migratory birds bring scores of our avian friends through the New York City metropolitan area, one of their many northern stops as they traverse what U.S. Fish and Wildlife refers to as The Atlantic Flyway. This does not lead to a mere uptick in sightings for birdwatchers, however. NYC sees anywhere from 90-200k bird fatalities each year that come directly from a single source: colliding with windows on high-rise buildings.

This phenomenon adds up to nearly one billion bird deaths nationwide every year. Here at home, politicians are creating legislative bodies to curb bird deaths happening in their neck of the woods. One major method under discussion is the use of bird-safe glass in new construction. While there is an additional cost to building with this glass, analysts suggest that reduced energy costs and maintenance related to collisions can help to make up the difference.

What Is the Bird-Friendly Building Council Act?

In May 2019, New York’s Senate passed Bill S25A, which establishes a 15-person Bird-Friendly Building Council. The council is to consist of:

  • A diverse membership of “wildlife conservation organizations, state and federal wildlife agencies, architects, landscape architects, window manufacturers and distributors, commercial building managers, and academia.”
  • Representation for wildlife conservation organizations like “the American Bird Conservancy, New York City Audubon, New York State Audubon, and the Long Island Audubon Council.”
  • Representation for federal wildlife agencies like “the Division of Migratory Bird Management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife.”

Its job will be to determine state-wide rules for new construction and renovation of older structures that suit its goals to curb bird collisions. They will also aim to identify and prioritize existing and upcoming projects that pose a greater danger, new and developing technologies to reduce crashes, funding for additional research toward sustainable, bird-friendly materials.

How Does Bird-Safe Glass Help?

Glass is not merely transparent to birds; instead, they see whatever is reflected in them, which means they are more likely to see the sky, treetops, and other things reflecting on the surface that are not there. They will fly into buildings expecting to keep going into the open sky, or to land somewhere that is not there. Building or renovating with Bird-safe glass helps to prevent this in several ways:

  • The use of an ultraviolet coating, silk screening or fritting breaks the window up into patterns visible to birds.
  • Spacing the use of these treatments or types of glass using the “2×4” rule warns birds away because what they see are spaces that are too small for them to fly through.

The cost of bird-safe glass usually only comes up to about a 5-percent cost difference between it and standard glass.

Is It Effective?

The Jacob Javits Convention Center is an essential and local example of these principles in action. Home to New York Build Expo, its 1.8 million square feet of space sees human visitors of all walks of life in droves every year. If you have been there in person, especially before its renovation project started in 2009, you may also remember a facade made almost entirely of windows and reflective surfaces.

In part of its years-long project that added up to billions in updates and expansions, the Javits Center became a bird-friendly zone with:

  • Vegetation on the roof to create green space and break up reflective surfaces; and
  • Replacing thousands of windows with fritted windows. These have a pixelated pattern that is less reflective and easier for birds to detect.  

Along with reducing collision-related bird deaths by 90 percent, the renovations also contributed to a marked reduction in energy costs. Implemented and completed before recent legislative changes, it stands as a prime example of what a more eco and bird-friendly New York City could be.

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