It’s hard out there on Planet Earth for everyone, even birds.
In 2014, The Washington Post published an article called “Stop blaming cats: As many as 988 million birds die annually in window collisions.” The general gist of the article isn’t too hard to glean from the title. Basically, collisions with glass windows kill a whole lot of birds every year. And it’s not even the super-tall skyscrapers killing the most birds; it’s the medium sized structures.
Buildings four to 11 stories tall account for about 56 percent of deaths in the new estimate, Loss and his colleagues report in the Condor: Ornithological Applications. Residences that are one to three stories tall make up around 44 percent, with skyscrapers representing less than 1 percent. (WaPo)
It’s not that skyscrapers don’t also contribute to aviary deaths; they do. It’s just that there are so many more smaller buildings that they end up killing more birds annually.
Any given small building kills only a few birds each year, vs. the 24 expected to die annually at a single skyscraper. But the United States has about 15.1 million low-rises and 122.9 million small residences, and only about 21,000 skyscrapers. Loss applauds efforts to make skyscrapers bird-friendly, but he cautions that protecting birds takes a broader effort. (WaPo)
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While cats certainly get a well-earned reputation for being bird predators, the reality is that humans and their buildings still contribute quite a bit. Cats are the only thing that outnumber buildings in terms of who kills the most birds. It’s kinda hard to hold too much a grudge against the kitties because they’re just doing what they’re biologically programmed to do. Humans on the other hand have evolved consciousnesses, and some have been trying to figure out how to reduce the number of birds our buildings kill each year.
The five most perilous cities for migrating birds are Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and New York City. Manmade lighting emanating from the perches of skyscrapers confuse and disorient birds, a siren call into the seas of sky. Birds either fly straight into windows or circle neighborhoods, their inner GPS thrown off by spirals of light, until they fall from exhaustion.
The problem is so rampant that bird advocacy groups have started to publish materials on helping architects design much more bird-friendly buildings. In fact, one report seems to claim that buildings, not felines, pose the number one threat to our feathered friends.
The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) published an online guide to helping designers, “Bird-Friendly Building Design.” According to this extensive report, colliding into glass is the single biggest bird killer in the nation—take that, cat haters. (Big Think)
So what is it about man-made buildings that make them birdie death traps? All the glass and the lighting used in the buildings. Birds don’t see the glass like we do, and because they see light on the UV spectrum that we don’t, it makes reflections even worse. Buildings without glass wouldn’t be a good solution, but ABC says that there are ways that buildings can use glass that are less harmful to birds.
From the report, the following are ways to build with glass that reduce bird deaths:
2×4 Rule. Birds rarely fly through horizontal spaces less than two inches high or vertical spaces less than four inches wide. Keeping this rule in mind creates many opportunities for bird-friendly designs.
Recessed windows reduce visible glass.
Decorative grilles offer residents and workers privacy while keeping birds away. Cheaper options include screens and netting.
Balconies and balustrades offer residents outdoor space while creating safer flight paths.
UV patterned glass and angled glass reduce collisions while offering architectural eye candy to human observers. Patterned glass serves as a warning signal to birds, while opaque, etched, stained, and frosted glass all keep our feathered friends at bay.
While not ideal, light colored shades and blinds both deter birds from impact, while window films and decals can minimize flight risk.
Designers can even re-think their lighting designs with a more pro-bird point of view in mind, ABC says.
Reducing exterior light and site lighting cuts down on evening mortalities.
Lights Out programs are in effect across North America, including areas of San Francisco, Portland, Houston, Denver, and Toronto. Chicago was first on board in 1995; there are currently over twenty programs.
Installing automatic lighting controls instead of relying on employee adherence reduces energy costs and saves avian lives.
Cut-off shields allow for the usage of lower-powered bulbs and offer novel design aesthetics.
Birds play an absolutely vital role in our ecosystem. Protecting them protects every living creature they co-exist with. We can’t upend absolutely everything, but buildings made with care for their well-being, and with the goal of reducing bird collision deaths, seems like a good way to start.
Writer/comedian James Schlarmann is the founder of The Political Garbage Chute and his work has been featured on The Huffington Post. You can follow James on Facebook and Instagram, but not Twitter because he has a potty mouth.