Bird Watch: Experts Discuss Glazing Industry’s Role in Protecting Birds

Questioning what the glass and glazing industry can do to help mitigate the number of fatal collisions affecting birds has been a longstanding discussion. It was also the focus of one session during the recent Zak World of Facades conference in New York.

Christoph Timm, principal at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, moderated the discussion, “No Harm, No Fowl: Bird-Friendly Glass, Local Law 15.” The panel included  Christine Sheppard, director of Glass Collisions Program for the American Bird Conservancy; Stefan Knust, director of sustainability for Ennead Architects; Danielle Tyson, architectural design manager NYC for Guardian Glass; and Sara Karim, design specialist for Turner Construction Company.

“For me, Local Law 15 is really the culmination of about 15 years’ worth of work,” Sheppard said in regards to the New York law, which amends the administrative code of the New York City building code where bird-friendly materials are concerned.

“The bird populations in the world are in a state of rapid decline. Bird collisions aren’t the only problem that they have, but just in the U.S., every year, a billion birds are killed by collisions with glass. And what do these birds do? Well, they eat the mosquitoes that [carry] West Nile virus and malaria. They contribute billions in agricultural services… So even though we don’t see them working for us every day, they’re out there, doing things that make it possible for us to lead our lives,” she said.

Timm also turned to Knust for his perspective on the law as he deals with it on a regular and daily basis.

“The perspective that [Christine] just provided is something that, I think, is probably at the heart of why we are all in this room,” Knust said. “We are building an environment– a built environment.–that also addresses nature. We’re bringing nature into our cities, and we know that it’s healthy. We’ve learned that in spades over the past two years. And so what that means is we’re also bringing more and more birds into these environments…Somebody in our office really understood what the impact of a glass building has when you’re building near a habitat, like Central Park and, took that home and said, ‘look, there has to be a way to address this.'”

The conversation then focused on solutions the glass and glazing industry can provide to protect wildlife while also following building and energy codes and maintaining given aesthetics.

“From the perspective of a glass manufacturer, there’s a lot to consider,” Tyson began. “First, glass is a human’s connection with nature, but it also threatens birds… And there’s a lot to consider from the manufacturer’s perspective, as well as from a design perspective.”

She listed issues that manufacturers and designers would likely come across, including complying with energy codes and bird-friendly requirements, maintaining a project’s aesthetics, being aware of cost, and manufacturing and design complexities.

There are three main solutions, Tyson said. The bird-friendly fritted glass would probably be the most well-known, which is a pattern on typically the number two surface of an insulating glass unit. Then an etched pattern, such as Bird1st Etch from Guardian Glass, on the number one surface allows the low-E coating to stay on the number two surface. And then a UV reflective coating is applied to the number one surface. This allows birds to visualize a pattern on the glass with significantly reduced visibility from the human perspective.

Timm also asked the panelists how other areas are helping to deter birds from colliding with buildings and how those rules compare with New York’s Local Law 15.

“In working with our team, I’ve come to see other jurisdictions and what their requirements are, and they’re quite different from New York,” Tyson said. “Toronto, for example, in 2022 will be requiring a first-surface deterrent. So, they’re less specific about a certain score, but that’s what they’re looking for there. That’s the one that I think is a stark contrast to what New York is doing. But it’s proving the point that the first-surface deterrent is typically most effective.”

“Canada developed an interesting standard, which is the most prescriptive that I’m aware of,” Knust continued. “They prescribe a pattern where say ‘This is it. This is the two-by-two surface one approach, and that’s the criteria.’ So that’s a much more restrictive approach than Local Law 15.”

The Zak World of Facades, New York event, concluded last month and will next travel to Saudi Arabia in February 2022. Visit USGNN™ for more from the recent event.

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