One of the more thought provoking presentations at the September GANA Fall Conference in Toronto was on birds and glass. Michael Mesure of Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP Canada) made a very convincing argument for helping birds not harm themselves on glass in buildings.
While that may seem like a bit of ridiculous statement, it’s not. Birds don’t see glass the same way we do. They see a reflection of the sky or nearby landscaping in the glass, so they continuing flapping merrily along. They don’t see a “stop, this could be harmful to your health” warning, unless we as an architect, owner, or glazier provide them a visual clue.
Think of a four-way street intersection with stop signs or signal lights. You see the light change, or see the stop sign, and hopefully know you have to stop. There’s nothing like that on glass for the birds. If the interior atrium with trees that look like natural nesting or perching venues is shrouded in clear glass, birds don’t see that and tend to fly smack dab into the glass, often killing them. Michael estimated the count to be close to 1 million bird deaths per year in Toronto, alone.
Your house might have the same issues. We’ve had several bird strikes at our home the last few years, and I thought the stupid birds just needed to learn (all animals learn, don’t they?) not to repeat the same action (flying into the glass). Guess that’s not the case, or different birds keep trying; I’m not sure which.
What exacerbates the problem in Toronto is the city sits on the boundary between two migratory areas, and generally sees twice the amount of bird “traffic” as an area in the middle of a migratory zone.
FLAP’s done enough research to have a pretty good handle on what doesn’t work: noisemakers, limited numbers of decals on the glass, plastic owls perched nearby… Other methods on the market, or about to come out work better.
What’s needed is markings on the glass that the birds can see, but which are invisible to people. One product on the market now, Ornilux, uses a UV marker the birds see as if it were a tree or a solid building, but is invisible to the human eye, so the birds swerve to avoid the contact. FLAP reports research also indicates that lines on the glass at 2-inch spacing on the horizontals and 4-inch spacing on the verticals, such as from silk screening or other decorative traits, lessens bird impacts.
One really scary thought Mark mentioned is that if the industry doesn’t get a grip on this, the EPA could step in and claim, at least as far as birds are concerned, that glass reflectivity is a form of radiation that they will regulate. Obviously, the impact on the glass industry would be tremendous, with a whole series of new constraints to deal with, not as grave say as energy, but still a potentially burdensome restriction. No one knows really where EPA intervention could lead.
The new Minnesota Vikings Stadium is getting a lot of play in the press because of its vast use of glass and clear ETFE panels in the roof and end walls, neither of which has anything to prevent bird strikes.
This looks to be one of those topics where we can keep going like we’ve been doing since the invention of glass, or we can get pro-active. The take from Toronto is that a lot more research, probably a lot of it by trial and error, will have to be done on site, and see what comes of that before a more widespread solution is found. Then, the marketplace (read architects and owners) have to be willing to incorporate those costs into the project budget.
Glass has multi-tasked since it was first invented, providing protection from the elements while giving occupants views to the exterior, and letting in natural light. We’ve since asked more of it: insulating glass units to increase energy efficiency, first reflective then low-E coatings to even further up the ante for energy, and laminating it for protection from bombs and the worst that Mother Nature can throw at it. Now, it look like it’s time to add bird protection to the mix. Is that sort of environmental protection a price too big to pay? We’ll see.