Stopping birds from flying into glass
The Science Building at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury is a green marvel. It’s powered by fuel cell technology. It’s received recognition from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for its energy efficiency.
But birds keep flying into it, concussing their brains or breaking their necks.
“I’ve heard some occasional birds flying into the building, knocking themselves out,” said Mitch Wagener, professor of biologic and environmental sciences at Western. “It’s probably happening at our greenhouse, too.”
The problem is simple. The building has a glassed-in atrium where students can gather in an hospitable open space. Birds see it that way too. But they are oblivious to the barrier in front of them.
“Birds can’t understand glass as a concept,” said Christine Sheppard of the American Bird Conservatory, who spoke at the university in November. “Glass is everywhere,” she said.
As a result, the American Bird Conservatory estimates, , that 300 million to 1 billion birds die in the United States every year because of collisions with buildings.
“Most are killed the first time they encounter a building,” said Sheppard, who leads the conservancy’s bird collision campaign.
Ed Wong, an associate professor of biologic and environmental sciences at the university, attended Sheppard’s lecture.
“I’m absolutely interested in pursuing this,” Wong said of ways to reduce collisions. “It seems like this is a good place to have a bird-friendly building.”
The problem is straightforward, Sheppard said in her talk. Birds don’t see the world like humans do.
“People have flat faces with their eyes in front close together,” she said. “We have 3D vision. We see the world as something we walk through.”
Birds, she said, have eyes on either side of their narrow heads and don’t see the same thing with both eyes. They may also be seeing ultraviolet spectrums of light that humans can’t perceive.
Therefore birds don’t understand glass. If they see trees reflected in it, they think the trees are real. If they see trees growing in an atrium, they think they can just fly in and perch there.
And they are also prone to fly along narrow pathways humans use as landscaping, leading up to a building.
“Birds don’t see architecture,” Sheppard said.
The reason we don’t see many of these birds lying around, Sheppard said, is that nature is the great recycler.
“Scavengers are very efficient,” she said.
People like light, airy interiors. We use a lot of glass. So this a problem that won’t be resolved easily or quickly.
“It’s difficult to make a difference,” said Patrick Comins, executive director of the Connecticut Audubon Society.
Comins said some cities have started a “Lights Out’’ programs to dim building lights at night, so birds are less likely to fly into them.
While bird deaths are dismal, there are ways to reduce those numbers.
“There are solutions,” she said. To find them, go to the conservancy’s website at https://abcbirds.org/threat/ bird-strikes.
The Audubon Society offers basic education for birding homeowners, selling decals people can put in their picture windows.
But there’s a new hitch. The Trump Administration has written a change into the Migratory Bird Act to make “inadvertent” bird deaths — by collisions or industrial accidents — exempt from any penalties, Comins said. You have to consciously kill migratory birds now to get into trouble.
Sheppard said there are efforts to get the LEED committee to recognize bird safety. Architects can use birdfriendly glass, with a faint grid pattern embedded in the glass to deter collisions.
Mike Trolle, owner of BPC Green Buildings in Wilton, said he had one client who insisted on making their home as bird-friendly as possible, including collisionproof glass.
At Western’s Science Center, Sheppard said one way to reduce bird collisions might be to hang parachute cord the lengths of the windows, spaced out at about 4 inches.
Sheppard said architects can design buildings without beguiling bird pathways. They can also simply use less glass in their designs.
“The more glass, the more collisions,” Sheppard said.
This undated photo provided by American Bird Conservancy shows a bird-friendly design at the School of Pharmacy at the University of Waterloo that uses a variety of different materials in addition to glass, including panels depicting plants that are the sources of different drugs, in Ontario, Canada.