For the Birds

Partnership announced to protect birds from death by architecture

Researchers use tunnels like these to test the efficacy of bird-friendly glass. (Pamela Curtin/Courtesy American Bird Conservancy)

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, between 365 million and 988 million birds die each year in the United States as a result of window collisions. To lower this horrifying statistic, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) recently announced a partnership with the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance (IGMA). Their first joint project is the construction of a testing tunnel to help develop innovative materials and other anti-collision design solutions.

It’s tempting to blame bird deaths on the increasingly tall, increasingly banal glass skyscrapers that make up an increasing portion of U.S. cities. But birds crash into high-rises and low-rises alike, as well as glass barriers, balustrades, and bus stops. Birds just can’t see glass, and as the material plays a bigger role in human lives, it inevitably plays a bigger role in birds’ deaths. So designers and advocacy groups need to think bigger about how to tackle this problem.

The tunnel developed by the ABC is based on an Austrian system designed for testing highway noise barriers. Modified to study architectural glass, the test works by introducing wild birds into a 30-foot long tunnel, in which they fly toward one of two exits: a perfectly clear pane of glass or the experimental glass (don’t worry, a net protects the subjects—the test is very safe). Their movement and responses to the materials are watched, taped, and measured.



In addition to not having windows or not washing windows, current bird-friendly design solutions include frosted, filmed, and fritted glass. The new partnership hopes to create new options. The ABC also hopes to expand a rating program it developed in 2009, which is referenced in LEED Pilot Credit #55 and in legislation across the country. Soon, in addition to being rated for insulation and strength, it may be common for glass products to be rated for bird deterrence.

“Demand for testing and rating materials already exceeds ABC’s capacity,” said Chris Sheppard, director of ABC’s Glass Collisions program. “In recent years, interest in bird-friendly design has grown, as architects and others realize that bird safety does not mean depriving people of light, views, and attractive building design.”

The IGMA is currently leading fundraising efforts and offering donors priority testing of new materials. To learn more about how you can help hashtag-save-the-birds without sacrificing aesthetic intent, visit the American Bird Conservancy for online resources.

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