Chicago Sun-Times

Advocates say city’s proposed building standards to protect birds won’t fly


With the spring migration on its way, Chicago bird safety advocates on Wednesday demanded that the city require new developmen­ts to use bird-friendly building standards.

When migratory birds pass through the city in the fall and spring each year, thousands of them are killed when they hit buildings. In just one night last fall, about 1,000 birds flew into McCormick Place Lakeside Center and died.

For the past four years, the Bird Friendly Chicago coalition has worked extensivel­y with the Chicago Department of Planning and Developmen­t to create comprehens­ive guidelines to help developers design buildings to prevent birds from striking them, said Annette Prince, the director of Chicago Bird Collision Monitors.

And until late last year, Prince was hopeful the planning department would make those guidelines a requiremen­t for any new projects in the city. But in January, Prince said officials decided the guidelines would be optional, and developers would be able to “score points” if they incorporat­ed birdfriend­ly features.

“We want to make these measures mandatory, not an option, for developers looking to get permits or other grants from the city,” Prince said. “Whether something lives and dies should not be optional.”

No recommenda­tions in the city’s current sustainabi­lity plan are required. But developers can score points for implementi­ng any of the nine sustainabl­e strategies in the plan, including for bird protection. If a project earns enough points, it is deemed sustainabl­y compliant by the city.

The city is currently updating and revising its sustainabi­lity plan and checklist for building new developmen­ts and rehabbing existing buildings. A draft of that updated policy will be released on April 15 for public comment.

A spokespers­on with the planning department wouldn’t comment on the details of the update until it’s released but said the city is aware of the bird advocates’ concerns.

The Chicago City Council passed an ordinance in 2020 encouragin­g, but not requiring, developers to prioritize designing new buildings with bird-safe features.

“We cannot wait any longer in our effort to stop needless bird deaths from occurring in Chicago, bird deaths that are occurring among already dwindling population­s of birds,” Bird Friendly Chicago said in a statement last month. The coalition includes the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, the Chicago Bird Alliance and Chicago Ornitholog­ical Society.

Bird-safe glass

Birds get disoriente­d by glass because it reflects greenery and the sky, making it look like something they can fly into. At night, glass structures with their lights on also pose a hazard.

Bird-safe building features include decorative grilles and patterned glass, which help birds see the glass windows as solid structures but don’t detract from the building’s overall design and appearance.

“We know that not every building can be completely bird safe and we can’t save every bird,” Prince said. “We’re not saying you have to go cover Willis Tower with a blanket. But we want the most critical and dangerous areas to be addressed.”

Those dangerous areas include the building’s facade at the ground level and lower floors because birds searching for food and shelter are likely to be flying closer to the ground.

“We really focused on making these guidelines comprehens­ive, but also achievable, useful and easy to understand,” Prince said.

The Robert Crown Community Center in Evanston is a good example of a bird-safe building that used a lot of patterned glass,

Prince said.

Tim Warren is the sales manager for Chicago-based glass supplier Torstenson Glass. After the mass collision at McCormick Place Lakeside Center last October, Warren said the company decided to start selling bird-safe glass to customers.

“We saw what happened and thought maybe there’s something we can do and offer to the Chicagolan­d market to make their buildings safer for birds,” Warren said.

Torstenson Glass sells Pilkington AviSafe glass, which is decorated with a pattern that doesn’t obstruct the view or light from the inside, but signals to the birds that they can’t fly into it, Warren said.

“Glass only continues to grow in popularity for building facades,” Warren said. “The demand for this bird-safe glass is also going to continue to grow as people really start to understand the negative impact the built environmen­t has on birds.”

There’s a misconcept­ion that this glass also comes at a significan­t cost, Warren said. And though there are types of birdsafe glass sold at a high premium, the glass sold by Torstenson costs 5% to 10% more than traditiona­l glass, he said.

“And that price will drop when demand grows,” Warren said. “And if the city implements a requiremen­t, there will be a much larger market.”

 ?? PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES FILE ?? A bird killed after striking McCormick Place Lakeside Center in October. Advocates of bird safety say changing building glass would limit bird deaths.
PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES FILE A bird killed after striking McCormick Place Lakeside Center in October. Advocates of bird safety say changing building glass would limit bird deaths.

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