City of Madison Passes Bird-Safe Glass Ordinance

On August 4, the Madison Common Council unanimously adopted Wisconsin’s first bird-friendly building ordinance. Introduced by Alders Marsha Rummel and Keith Furman, drafted by city staff and revised with input from the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the city-wide ordinance will require new large construction and expansion projects to use modern bird-safe strategies and materials that allow birds to see glass. The new requirements are expected to dramatically reduce bird mortalities. The ordinance goes into effect October 1, 2020.

“The well-being of birds and people in Wisconsin are very intertwined, from the economic benefits of tourism and birdwatching to free services like pest control and pollination,” says Matt Reetz, executive director of Madison Audubon, one of the organizations that has been advocating for the ordinance. “We really must do what we can to protect birds, and this is a straightforward and important step in doing so. I’m proud of our city for taking this step.”

The ordinance was developed by the City of Madison, in consultation with planners from other cities that have implemented similar bird-friendly standards. A coalition of local environmental groups studying the bird-collision problem in Madison also provided strong support for the ordinance. This group, called the Bird Collision Corps, is coordinated by Madison Audubon, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s (UW-Madison’s) Facilities Planning and Management Department and Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, the Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center and ABC.

“The City of Madison’s unanimous adoption of bird-friendly building standards puts it at the front of a growing movement of communities that are doing their part to save the nearly 1 billion birds that die after colliding with glass in the U.S. each year,” says Bryan Lenz, ABC’s Glass Collisions Program manager. “Not to mention that saving birds is the right thing to do, both ethically and for a healthy environment.”

Research shows that residences that are one to three stories tall account for 43.6% of collision-related fatalities, while 56.3% of collisions happen at low-rise buildings (four to 11 floors), according to a release from ABC. Those two types of buildings account for most of Madison’s cityscape. Only 0.1% of bird deaths happen after collisions with buildings 12 stories or higher.

“It is my hope that with greater understanding and appreciation of birds in the design process, we can ensure our buildings on campus do less harm,” says Aaron Williams, who is UW-Madison Facilities Planning and Management’s assistant campus planner and landscape architect. “We can design and build for greater equity and purpose in regard to the natural world. What’s good for birds is ultimately good for the rest of us.”

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