Design for the Birds: Protecting Birds from the Hazards of Glass
Windows claim the lives of hundreds of millions of birds each year in the U.S., posing a greater threat to the avian population than cat predation, pesticides, or oil spills. The threat can be avoided, however, and the design community holds the key.
by Jessica Boehland
“There is unbelievable carnage taking place,” says Daniel Klem Jr., Ph.D., a biology professor at Pennsylvania’s Muhlenberg College and the world’s foremost expert on the phenomenon of birds colliding with buildings. “If you take the number of birds killed from the Exxon Valdez oil spill and compare it to my lowest estimate of the number of birds killed flying into windows,” says Klem, “it would take 333 Valdezes every year to equal that number. The Exxon Valdez is nothing compared to the animals dying at glass.”
Those of us engaged in the design and construction of buildings are increasingly aware of the intimacy between the built environment and the natural world. And, through our adoption of a philosophy of sustainability and our implementation of green design principles, we are beginning to assume responsibility for the negative consequences of that bond. We limit energy consumption, incorporate sustainably harvested wood, and avoid ozone-depleting refrigerants in the hopes that our actions will help move humanity toward a sustainable relationship with other species. Yet, for the most part, we have ignored one of the most direct threats our buildings pose to the natural world. Because birds collide with buildings as a result of design decisions, the design community possesses a unique capability to solve the problem.