City Birds

How to prevent bird-building collisions

Incorporating bird-friendly design elements into facilities can help stop strikes
Monday, November 25, 2013
By Geoff Matheson

When considering the major issues affecting the environment, many people think about climate change, energy conservation, overpopulation, pollution, resource depletion or even waste disposal.

After all, these issues are among the more frequently reported and discussed environmental concerns. However, there is an often unnoticed, but equally serious, environmental issue: the extraordinary number of bird accidents caused by man-made structures. These collisions account for an estimated one billion deaths annually, or more than 10 per cent of North America’s total bird population.

The bird population migrates during two annual periods in the spring and fall. Over the biannual journeys, daytime strikes occur when birds cannot perceive glass as a solid object and are unable to distinguish the images reflected in glass from sky, trees or potted indoor plants. Lights within high-rise buildings, which actively lure birds, cause nighttime collisions.

Toronto is located on one of the biggest migratory corridors on the planet. As it happens, the Toronto skyline forms a glass wall along the shores of Lake Ontario, made up of the initial large structures that birds face coming south from the wilderness. A New York Times articles from October 2012 estimated that bird-building collisions cause more than million deaths annually in the Toronto area.

Large commercial structures

The City of Markham experienced a serious problem with bird deaths after relocating its municipal building to an atrium-style structure on Warden Ave. The City initially attempted to counteract the problem by removing trees and shrubs that enhanced the environment inside the structure. Silhouette stickers applied to the windows to act as a deterrent also produced limited success. Finally, a specialized film was applied. Since the completion of the patterned, glass-film treatment, there have been no reported collisions.

Golf clubs and recreational facilities

Golf clubs or leisure facilities with expanses of green lawn and trees also pose a risk to birds. One such problem occurred right in the heart of Toronto at the ivy-covered Georgian-Revival-style building that is home to the Faculty Club. According to Leanne Pepper, the club’s general manager, the problems began when a retractable patio awning was replaced by a glass-enclosed area.

“Migrating birds began crashing into the new structure and dropping to the ground in full view of distraught, dining onlookers,” she says.

Pepper contacted the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), a bird rescue organization, and resolved the issue by putting a film with markings on the structure’s windows.

Residential buildings

There are a significantly greater number of residential buildings in Toronto compared to commercial ones, and consequently, most collisions take place at homes.

Residents can take a few do-it-yourself measures to prevent bird deaths. Options include covering glass with window screening or netting that is at least two to three inches from the glass; covering glass with a one-way transparent film that permits people on the inside to see out while making the window appear opaque on the outside; or marking the glass with soap or paint not more than 10 centimetres apart.

The solution to the bird-building collision problem lies in integrating bird-safe design elements into new architecture for commercial buildings, leisure facilities and homes. Existing buildings need to be retrofitted with solutions such as applying tape, film, paint or decals to its exterior to create visual barriers; installing netting in front of the glass or using shutters; and modifying interior and exterior lighting schemes.

Geoff Matheson is the vice-president of sales for the Convenience Group, a distributor and dealer of 3M window film that has provided solutions to commercial and residential customers across the Greater Toronto Area for more than 40 years. He can be reached at 1-888-835-5885.

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