MD County Passes Bird-Friendly Building Law


Maryland’s Howard County Council passed a bird-safety building mandate last month, making it the first area in the state to do so following a recent trend around the country.

The council voted 4-1 along party lines for the new standards on July 16. County Executive Calvin Ball signed the legislation into law the next day.

The Mandates

From now on, when building permit applications are submitted to the county, applicants must also submit documentation showing the design meets bird-friendly specifications from the LEED green building certification program. The legislation does not mandate for buildings to be retrofitted.

To qualify for the LEED credit, the building must not exceed allowable bird threat levels, which are calculated based on several factors including facade materials, building height, lighting and migration paths.

Christine Conn, chair of the Howard County Environmental Sustainability Board, testified at the public hearing that the legislation is also a building energy win.

“To me, sustainability is about looking at the long-term benefits,” Conn said. “We’re protecting birds, we’re reducing energy consumption and we’re reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And at the end of the day, we’re saving money. It’s a cost-savings measure, and it just makes economic sense.”

Conn also noted that a statewide bill is on the table for next year, as the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates passed measure in 2019. If the state legislation gets passed, Howard’s law will be complementary to the state’s.

Similarly, legislation has been moving forward at the federal level, as well.

Other Legislation

Howard’s law was enacted almost a month after 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 bill mandates that all public buildings (either new or those slated for a facade renovation) managed by the General Services Administration 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.

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.


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

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