US House Passes Bird-Friendly Legislation


Late last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2, better known as the Moving Forward Act. While the legislation covers infrastructure, affordable housing and climate issues, the $1.5 trillion bill also included H.R. 919, the Bird-Safe Buildings Act.

The bipartisan bill, which was introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Illinois, last year, calls for federal buildings to incorporate bird-safe building materials and design features.

The Legislation

“In a time when wildlife faces unprecedented, human-driven challenges, we have an obligation to be responsible members of our environment and do what we can to mitigate our impacts on those we share this planet with,” said Quigley. “That can start with protecting wildlife from deadly collisions with our buildings.”

The bill mandates that all public buildings (either new or those slated for a facade renovation) managed by the General Services Administrations be designed or altered in a bird-friendly manner.

Some of the requirements include:

  • At least 90% of the facade from ground level to 40 feet shall not be composed of glass or shall be composed of glass that employs a combination of bird-safe modifications;
  • At least 60% of the facade above 40 feet shall meet a modified glass standard;
  • No transparent passageways or corners;
  • All glass adjacent to atria or courtyards containing water features, plants and other materials attractive to birds shall also meet the facade standard; and
  • Outside lighting shall be shielded and minimized, though not at the expense of security and other requirements.

Some exceptions to the rules include buildings and sites listed on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, the White House and its grounds, the Supreme Court building and grounds and the campus of the U.S. Capitol.

The Bill also mandates that the GSA must ensure continued monitoring of bird mortality at public buildings.

While legislation has been passed at the state and city levels, this would be the first time the issue of bird mortality in the built environment has been acknowledged by the federal government.

“In 2008, ABC founded what is still the only national-level program dedicated to reducing the billion bird deaths that occur annually from collisions with glass in the U.S.,” said Christine Sheppard, Director of American Bird Conservancy’s Glass Collisions Program.

“Since then, more than 20 states, counties, and municipalities have passed bird-friendly legislation. However, the H.R. 919 is a game-changer. The recognition of this issue at the federal level is a momentous achievement because if passed by the Senate and put into law, it will set an example for the entire U.S.A.”

The National Audubon Society applauded the House’s move as well.

“These bills are among the best examples of bipartisan conservation leadership and as we invest in building infrastructure their addition will help protect vulnerable wildlife, including bird species like the Golden-Winged Warbler and Black Tern,” said Sarah Greenberger, Senior Cice President for Conservation Policy at NAS.

At the lower levels, New York City lawmakers are among the latest to suggest bird-friendly legislation. Introduced at the end of last year by Democratic City Council member Rafael Espinal, the legislation 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.

NYC joined Chicago and San Francisco, among other cities, in experimenting with bird-safe mandates.

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.

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.

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.

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: Building envelope; Building Envelope; Building facades; Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; Government; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; Regulations

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