A national standard for bird-friendly building design

By Daniel Klem, Jr., PhD

Photos courtesy P. G. Saenger, Acopian Center for Ornithology, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pa.
Photos courtesy P. G. Saenger, Acopian Center for Ornithology, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pa.

More than four decades of comprehensive scientific research have documented and experimentally validated the very lethal consequences sheet glass pose to birds. Free-flying wild birds behave as if clear and reflective windows are invisible to them. Billions of avians are killed striking sheet glass installed as windows of all sizes, walls covering entire structural façades, atria, outdoor railings, and noise barriers lining roads and railways. The annual avian toll is estimated at 16 to 42 million in Canada and 365 to 988 million in the United States. To address this unintended and unwanted killing of birds, the federal government commissioned the National Standard of Canada group to prepare the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) A460:19, Bird-friendly building design, in order to help  building industry professionals, including architects, developers, and owners, to make structures safe for birds. Guided by the science and several existing municipal and private bird-safe regulations in North America, the application, utility, and reach of CSA A460:19 is global even though it was created specifically for Canada.

Not only is it a moral and ethical obligation and responsibility to make the human-built environment safe for birds, but also a growing number of federal, provincial, and local governments are requiring and implementing bird-safe bills, codes, ordinances, zoning regulations, and other legislation. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) and the environmental legal firm Ecojustice, the City of Toronto was the first municipality to enact mandatory bird-safe building practices for new construction. This legislative milestone has stimulated similar measures throughout North America and Europe.

Acid-etched line patterning used on the outside window surface in order to prevent bird-window collisions at the Berks County Nature Center in Reading, Pa.
Acid-etched line patterning used on the outside window surface in order to prevent bird-window collisions at the Berks County Nature Center in Reading, Pa.

Legislations

The most prominent international bird protection legal agreements relevant to avian mortality at windows for Canada are the Migratory Birds Convention Act (MBCA) and Species at Risk Act (SARA). Their equivalents are the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the United States and the Birds Directive of the European Commission in the European Union. For North America regionally, protecting birds from windows is authorized under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) in Ontario, and the B3 Program (Building, Benchmark, and Beyond) in Minnesota.

Although regional legislation is almost exclusively directed at retrofits, remodels, and new construction of government buildings, the hope is mandatory bird-safe practices will serve as a model and example to emulate in private commercial structures.

Specific mandatory ordinances and zoning regulations to prevent bird-window collisions at government and commercial buildings have been adopted by the municipalities of Markham and Toronto in Ontario.

Voluntary recommendations have been formalized in Calgary, Alta., and Vancouver, B.C. The drafting of each of these legislative policies have been inspired by bird-safe building design guidelines published by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), and the planning authorities and their avian conservation co-operators in the cities of Calgary, Markham, Toronto, and Vancouver.

An obvious prediction is as awareness of the problem and growing solutions continue to emerge, legislation to protect birds from sheet glass will grow accordingly until it is required everywhere.

CSA A460:19

According to CSA A460:19, design strategies to minimize the risk of bird-building collisions are:

  • treatment of glazing materials;
  • building integrated permanent structures;
  • overall building and site design; and
  • lighting.
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