For the Birds

September 18, 2020
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Jeremi Swietochowski is in fourth grade. He was playing with Legos when a bird hit his window. Jeremi went to check on the bird. “Just when I was about to open the door, it flew away,” he told TIME for Kids.

Not all birds are so lucky. Between 365 million and a billion birds are killed each year in the United States by flying into glass. That’s according to a 2014 study. Bird collisions increase during the fall migration.

“Birds take what they see literally,” Christine Sheppard says. She is director of the glass-collisions program at the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “When they see a reflection of habitat—to them, that’s just more habitat that they can fly into.” Sheppard and others want to make buildings bird-friendly.

DOUBLE TROUBLE Birds are confused by habitat reflected in glass. They think they can fly through it.

ADAM BETUEL—GEORGIA AUDUBON SOCIETY

By Design

There are three main ways to make a building bird-friendly. One is to use less glass. Another is to wrap a glass building with some kind of screen. The Orange Cube, in France, is a good example of this technique.

PROTECTIVE SHIELD The Orange Cube, in France, is bird-friendly. A screen keeps birds safe. But it doesn’t block the light.

GIUSEPPE MACSI—AGF/UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP/GETTY IMAGES

A third strategy is to use special glass. This was done on the Javits Center. It’s a huge glass building in New York City.

In 2009, the city decided to replace some of the glass. Metal panels were used. So was opaque and patterned glass.

Daniel Piselli is an architect. He worked on the project. He says that with glass, “the main thing is to put something on it that birds can see, so they’re not fooled by reflections and transparency. The trick is to do that in such a way that people can still enjoy the views and daylight through the glass.”

Work on the Javits Center was completed in 2014. Bird collisions went down by 90%.

SEEING SPOTS A pattern on the glass face of New York’s Javits Center helps prevent bird collisions.

NOAM GALAI—WIREIMAGE/GETTY IMAGES; COURTESY SUSAN ELBIN (INSET)

Protecting Birds

Bird-friendly building design is required in only a few places in the U.S. These include San Francisco, California, and the state of Minnesota. A new building law will go into effect in New York City in December.

Mike Quigley is a U.S. congressman. He’s trying to pass a national law for government buildings. “Eventually, I’d like to think that no one would build a building anywhere without doing this,” Quigley says.

FEATHERED FRIENDS These are three of the birds most affected by glass collisions.

LARRY KELLER, LITITZ, PA—GETTY IMAGES; BRIAN E. KUSHNER—GETTY IMAGES; TAY FIDA—GETTY IMAGES

Connie Sanchez, of the National Audubon Society, agrees. “Talk to your lawmakers about this issue,” she says. “Get them to understand how important it is.”

After the bird hit his window, Jeremi wanted to make sure it never happened again (see “Take Action”). He got permission to draw a grid on the glass. It’s “visible for birds,” his mom says, “but hardly noticeable for people.”

Take Action

SIMONA PILOLLA—GETTY IMAGES

You can make your home safer for birds. “There’s a whole range of solutions that can be applied on the outside of windows,” Audubon’s Connie Sanchez says. Here are a few.

Screens They reduce reflection.

Masking tape Strips should be spaced two to four inches apart.

Artwork Use tempera paint. Most brands are easy to wash off later.

Inspired? “This is one of the few conservation issues where you can learn about it and do something about it the same day,” ABC’s Christine Sheppard says.

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