Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Federal Bird-Safe Buildings Act of 2017 to the U.S. Senate in early October 2017. The bill would require federal buildings to use bird-friendly glass to mitigate bird deaths. This contrasts with the Trump administration’s recent reversal of an Obama-era policy that sought prosecution of oil drillers and wind-farm developers who kill migratory birds accidentally.

According to a memorandum by the U.S. Department of the Interior, “Interpreting the [Migratory Bird Treaty Act] to apply to incidental or accidental actions hangs the sword of Damocles over a host of otherwise lawful and productive actions, threatening up to six months in jail and a $15,000 penalty for each and every bird injured or killed. As Justice Marshall warned,

‘The value of a sword of Damocles is that it hangs-not that it drops.’ Indeed, the mere threat of prosecution inhibits otherwise lawful conduct.”

The Federal Bird-Safe Buildings Act of 2017 would require each public building constructed, substantially altered or acquired by the General Services Administration (GSA) to meet several standards. Ninety percent of the exposed façade material from the ground level up to 40 feet should not be composed of glass, or should 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 these methods (modified glass).”

At least 60 percent of the exposed façade material above the 40-feet mark should meet that glass standard and there should not be any transparent passageways or corners.

All glass adjacent to atria or courtyards containing water features, plants and other materials attractive to birds would be required to meet the modified glass standard and outside lighting would need to be shielded and minimized appropriately.

If passed, the GSA must ensure that the actual bird mortality rate is monitored at each public building and reduce exterior building lighting where practical.

Historic buildings of national significance, the White House, the Supreme Court, the U.S. Capitol and related buildings would be exempt.

The bill was referred to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

“While this legislation is limited to federal buildings, it’s a very good start that could lead to more widespread applications of bird-friendly designs elsewhere,” said Christine Sheppard, director of the American Bird Conservancy’s Glass Collisions Program, in a statement.

“Now is the time to proactively avoid continued impacts to bird populations from building strikes, which only compounds losses from other threats such as habitat loss and climate change,” said Eric Stiles, president and chief executive officer of New Jersey Audubon, in a statement. “We applaud Cory Booker for introducing the Federal Bird-Safe Buildings Act.”

A companion bill was re-introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives in May 2017.

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) re-introduced the Federal Bird-Safe Buildings Act, which has been proposed to Congress in every session since 2010, according to Quigley’s office.

According to the bill, an estimated 1 billion birds die annually from striking buildings, bridges and other manmade structures, with glass being one of the primary causes of the deaths.

“By pursuing cost-neutral, responsible, and realistic solutions, we can play an important role in preserving the intrinsic, cultural, and ecological value birds bring to our society,” Quigley said in a statement in May 2017. “This bill will put an emphasis on constructing buildings with bird-safe materials and design features, which in turn will help eradicate unnecessary bird deaths caused by collisions with glass.”

The bill was referred to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for covering this issue, Jordan! It’s good to see that bird mortality is being taken seriously — the vast majority of the birds that die are protected species who are insectivores, pollinators, and otherwise critical to the health of the environment, and they’re declining precipitously.

    I look forward to more coverage of the bird safe glass situation as it develops!

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