Bird-Safe Buildings Act Reintroduced in Congress

Millions of birds die in the U.S. each year due to collisions with glass throughout the built environment. This phenomenon is not exclusive to skyscrapers; windows or any size can cause collisions, especially if they reflect large amounts of vegetation and sky. To mitigate bird deaths, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) reintroduced the Bird-Safe Buildings Act of 2019 to the U.S. House of Representatives on January 30, 2019. The bipartisan bill requires that public buildings being constructed, acquired or altered significantly by the General Services Administration incorporate bird-safe building materials and design features. Quigley first introduced this bill in 2010.

“Almost one third of all bird species in the U.S. hold endangerment status, which gives us the responsibility to protect birds from preventable deaths,” says Quigley. “By using materials that conceal indoor lighting to the outside, we can dramatically reduce the frequency of birds colliding with glass buildings. With birding activities supporting 620,000 jobs and bringing in $6.2 billion in state tax revenues, this is both an environmental and economic issue with a relatively simple, cost-neutral and humanitarian fix.”

The bill states that each public building constructed, acquired or of which more than 50 percent of the façade is altered substantially by the Administrator of General Services must meet, to the maximum extent practicable, the following standards:

  • At least 90 percent of the exposed façade material from ground level to 40 feet shall not be composed of glass or shall be composed of glass employing:
    • Elements that preclude bird collisions without completely obscuring vision;
    • Ultraviolet (UV) patterned glass that contains UV-reflective or contrasting patterns that are visible to birds;
    • Patterns on glass designed in accordance with a rule that restricts horizontal spaces to less than 2 inches high and vertical spaces to less than 4 inches wide;
    • Opaque, etched, stained, frosted or translucent glass; or
    • Any combination of the methods described.
  • At least 60 percent of the exposed façade material above 40 feet shall meet the above standards.
  • There shall not be any transparent passageways or corners.
  • All glass adjacent to atria or courtyards containing water features, plants and other materials attractive to birds shall meet the above standards.
  • Outside lighting shall be appropriately shielded and minimized subject to security and other mission-related requirements.

Buildings that would be exempt from the proposed legislation include those listed or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the White House, the Supreme Court building and the U.S. Capitol.

On February 7, 2019 the bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management.

Several companies within the glass industry have addressed the issue in recent years by offering bird-safe glazing options which include acid etching, frit and UV patterns visible to birds.

“We believe the industry has good solutions for bird glass and expect building codes to grow in this area. Sustainability is hard-wired into our corporate values and we’ve been advocates of energy-efficiency and green building. I’m not deeply familiar with the legislation, but am always concerned with the efficiency and efficacy when these efforts come from Congress,” says Robert Struble, brand and communications manager at Vitro Architectural Glass.

The Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance brought awareness to bird collisions at its summer conference in 2018.

A Local Effort

According to the Chicago Tribune, Alderman Brian Hopkins proposed an ordinance in Chicago called the Bird Friendly Design ordinance that would require bird-friendly design for large residential projects and all commercial development. Existing buildings would only need to include bird-friendly design if the owner undertakes a major renovation. The ordinance is backed by Bird Friendly Chicago.

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