NYC Proposes Bird-Friendly High-Rise Ordinance


In an effort to cut down on the number of birds who die flying into the city’s buildings each year, New York City lawmakers are suggesting legislation requiring “bird-Friendly” glass on the city’s high rises.

If adopted, New York would be the largest city in the United States to require glass that is visible to birds. NYC Audubon estimates that 90,000-230,000 birds are killed every year from flying into New York buildings.

According to the Associated Press, the legislation proposed by Democratic City Council member Rafael Espinal would require that at least 90% of the exterior of the first 75 feet of all new buildings or major renovations be constructed with materials that are visible to birds, such as glass with a glazing or pattern.

The initiative has received wide support from other council members, but was initially met with some pushback from the Real Estate Board of New York, which expressed concerns about the availability of materials.

The AP reports, though, that an official with the group recently noted that the concerns have been addressed.

“We thank the Council for addressing a number of concerns we had with the original version, and support a science-based approach to reducing bird deaths,” said Basha Gerhards, the real estate group’s vice president of policy and planning.

“We hope the Council will track over time the efficacy of these measures and monitor the commercial availability of these materials to optimize compliance and the goals of the bill.”

Bird-Friendly Legislation

New York joins Chicago in cities proposing bird-friendly building legislation. Chicago’s Bird Friendly Design ordinance was introduced by Ald. Brian Hopkins and reintroduced by Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., on Jan. 23, according to the Chicago Tribune, and will encourage—and sometimes mandate—bird-friendly design on high-rises.

The problem occurs when birds are flying at night and can’t tell that the glass is actually a wall, leading them to collide with the structure. Exterior lights also confused birds into circling buildings multiple times to the point of exhaustion. Both instances can result in death.

Backed by a coalition of groups including the Chicago Audubon Society, backers say that the costs added to new construction will not be significant, though they recognize that applying the proposed rules to renovations might be a harder sell.

The measure includes requiring:

  • at least 95% of a building’s facade, from the ground to a height of 36 feet, either not be sheathed in glass or have bird-safe glass with etching, frosting or mounted elements such as screens;
  • that nonessential exterior lighting be automatically shut off between 11 p.m. and sunrise; and
  • interior landscaping always be placed behind bird-friendly exterior glass.

This is the fifth time such legislation has been introduced in Chicago. As of April, lawmakers were still discussing the move.

Other cities, such as San Francisco, already have ordinances in place and others still are experimenting with studies as well as taking it one project at a time.

Bird-Friendly Projects

In May 2017, nearly 400 birds were killed after colliding with a skyscraper in Galveston, Texas, during a storm. Sarah Flournoy, communities program manager for Houston Audubon, said the birds were migrating from Central and South America to their nesting grounds up north. The Houston area is a frequent stopping point for birds after they’ve crossed the Gulf of Mexico.

During the night, the Galveston area experienced storms with high winds. Conservationists say that the storm might have forced the birds to fly lower than normal and the lights from the building could have disoriented the birds. Even if the birds tried to get around the building instead of confusing it for safety, the likelihood is that the winds knocked them into the side of the skyscraper.

Of the 395 dead birds there were 25 different species, including Nashville warblers, ovenbirds and American redstart.

Owners of the American National Insurance Company’s 23-story building responded to the incident by taking up the practice of shutting all the lights off at night.

Conservationists, however, pushed for other measures to be taken, such as retrofitting the high-rise with the etched glass.

Such alterations were also suggested over and over in Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium. An informal study done there released in March found 60 avian deaths during the 2016 fall migration.

That study, commissioned by the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis, the Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds and the Friends of Roberts Bird Sanctuary, suggested etching patterns on the glass of the highly reflective building.

The stadium had been a concern, not just because of its glass facade, but also because it’s located in the Mississippi Flyway, a bird migration route that stretches from Canada all the way down to South America.

In an 11-week span, from August 2016 (when the stadium opened) to November, volunteers from the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis, the Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds and the Friends of Roberts Bird Sanctuary walked around the 1.75 million square feet of stadium looking for carcasses of birds that had flown into the 200,000 square feet of reflective glass.

Spaluch1, CC-BS-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Milwaukee Bucks Arena—the Fiserv Forum—which opened in time for the National Basketball Association’s 2018-19 season. The arena was dubbed the first-ever bird-friendly arena.

The study took place (almost) every day between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. around the perimeter of the building. During the observation period, with those restrictions, volunteers found 74 birds of 21 species. Of those birds, 60 were dead and 14 were observed stunned on the ground or in the air after colliding with the glass.

The findings were meant to serve as a guideline for an official, $300,000 survey that ended last month. NPR recently reported that the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority says it could be seven to 10 months before it responds to the recommendations to treat the stadium’s glass.

The biggest recommendation is for a film or coating that would reduce the reflectivity of the glass walls, the materials for which could cost between $50,000 and $570,000 depending on how much of the exterior is involved—plus labor costs.

Other stadiums, however, were built bird-friendly from the jump, such as the Milwaukee Bucks Arena—the Fiserv Forum—which opened in time for the National Basketball Association’s 2018-19 season.

The LEED certified building was dubbed the first-ever bird-friendly arena thanks to designer Populous, which reportedly tweaked the design of the arena’s glass after organization Bird City Wisconsin talked to the team about the migration path that Milwaukee finds itself in.

At certain points in the building’s exterior, glass windows extend form the ground all the way through the swooping roof. For this glass, the design called for a thin ceramic pattern coating or fritting.

Fritting reduced the transparency just enough that, while seen up close, is not really visible to humans but is visible enough to birds that it signals that the glass is, in fact, a wall.

Officials note that the added fritting did not add to the cost of the arena.


Tagged categories: Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; Environmental Protection; Exterior Wall Coatings; Glass coatings; Good Technical Practice; Government; Laws and litigation; NA; North America

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