In a nearly unanimous vote on Tuesday, December 10, the New York City Council passed a new regulation mandating the use of “bird-friendly material” in all new construction projects. Conservationists hope the new bill will curb the number of birds killed annually by collisions with the city’s buildings, a figure that currently ranges between 90,000 and 230,000.
The bill, Proposed Initiative 1482B, which passed 43-3, will require 90 percent of the first 75 feet of new buildings to be constructed with materials that are easier for birds to identify as obstacles. John Rowden, Director of Community Conservation at the National Audubon Society, pointed towards lighting and glass as the two main reasons for bird collisions. “Lighting is an attractant—especially for migrating birds who often fly at night. Brightly lit buildings can draw birds in where they can hit windows or other obstacles,” noted Rowden. Glass is confusing to birds because it is both invisible and reflective; they see their habitat or sky reflected in the glass and consequently fly into it. Once the bill becomes law, that glass will need to be treated with frosted patterns or etchings to demarcate it as an obstacle.
New York City experiences exceptional bird traffic because of its location along the Atlantic Flyway, one of four major migratory routes across the globe. Migrations during fall and spring bring a surge of varied species through the city, and with that comes a corollary increase in collisions. As North America continues to build taller glass structures, it is estimated that 29 percent of birds (about 3 billion) have vanished from the continent since 1970.
New York City is the largest American city to adopt this sort of environmental building legislation. According to a report by Curbed, the council hopes to set an example for others to follow: “This is a significant step in protecting our feathered friends,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “The hope is that when you have other big cities that put this requirement on, it’s going to increase production and, hopefully, bring costs down. We think that other cities are going to follow us on this.”