Minnesota and Oakland, Calif. Adopt Bird-Friendly Building Requirements

Census complex by Esther Langan

The U.S. Census Complex, in Suitland, MD, illustrates a strategy that controls heat and light but also makes glass safe for birds. Windows are fronted by a 'brise soleil' or sunshade, that also makes the building very handsome. Photo by Esther Langan.

(Washington, D.C., June 26, 2013) The state of Minnesota and the city of Oakland, Calif., are the latest local or state governments to approve bird-friendly building design requirements. Oakland has adopted requirements similar to those established in neighboring San Francisco, Calif. in 2011, while Minnesota followed LEED's (Leadership in Engineering and Environmental Design) “Reducing Bird Collisions” program. In Illinois, several jurisdictions—Cook County, Highland Park, Lake County, and Evansville—have existing or pending guidelines while national legislation has been proposed in Congress.

“There is a growing awareness of and alarm about the very significant bird mortality that is occurring across the United States as a result of bird collisions with buildings,” said Dr. Christine Sheppard, Bird Collisions Campaign Manager at American Bird Conservancy. “Studies suggest that as many as one billion birds die from such collisions each year. As ABC and other groups have raised awareness of the problem, we are seeing increasing interest among local governments, architects, and developers regarding bird-friendly building design and how to foster it through mandatory and voluntary regulatory processes.”

Dr. Sheppard worked extensively with officials in San Francisco, along with Noreen Weedon from Golden Gate Audubon, to develop the city's bird-friendly requirements. Sheppard has been presenting continuing education classes on the issue to architecture firms across the country upon request, and authored the only national publication on the issue: American Bird Conservancy's Bird-Friendly Building Design.

Minnesota's bird-safe building guidelines address eight major areas, including: pre-design site selection; schematic design; design development; construction documents; construction administration; construction; correction period; and ongoing occupancy. The guidelines specifically recommend such things as planning deterrent facades for areas that are bird attractants; reducing bird collision “traps”; monitoring of bird impacts during the building's first year; and incorporating Lights Out program concepts.

Minnesota building projects beginning the “schematic design” phase on or after May 1, 2013 are required to use version 2.2 of the guidelines, which includes bird-friendly concepts. Projects beginning the schematic design phase before this date are allowed to continue with their current guideline version. Projects may elect to use a specific version 2.2 guideline in lieu of an earlier version if they choose.

The city of Oakland's Bird Safety Measures have now become part of the building permit process. The measures apply to all construction projects that include glass as part of the building's exterior and where proposed projects meet any one of several criteria, including: project is located immediately adjacent to a substantial water body or recreation area; the project includes substantial vegetated, green roof, or green wall areas as part of the building, or substantial vegetation adjacent to it; or the structure contains an atrium that will incorporate vegetation.

The measures require that a Bird Collision Reduction Plan—reducing potential bird collisions to the maximum feasible extent—be developed by each project builder and then reviewed and approved by the city. That plan is required to incorporate Best Management Practices to reduce bird strike impacts. In addition, the plan must include a series of mandatory measures, such as avoiding using mirrors in landscape design; avoiding placement of bird attractants near glass; and using minimum-intensity white strobe lighting with three-second flash instead of solid red or rotating lights, which serve as bird attractants.

Notably, the measures require bird-friendly glazing treatments to no less than 90 percent of all windows and glass between the ground and 60 feet above the ground. The measures describe eight different examples of glazing treatments.

The measures also call for a reduction in light pollution that can attract night-flying migrants into the built environment. Five different examples are referenced, including lighting reductions during migration seasons, use of automatic light timers, and steps to reduce light emitted by lights inside buildings in addition to glare, unnecessary outdoor lighting, and lighting that reaches where it is not needed.

Finally, Oakland's Bird Safety Measures require the adoption of best management practices to reduce bird collisions. Examples referenced include: performing nightly maintenance during the day to reduce attractant night-time lighting; installation of appropriate blinds, shades, or other window coverings; and encouraging employees to turn of lights and close window coverings at the end of the day.

While San Francisco, Oakland, and Cook County have responded to this issue on a local level, Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley has introduced national legislation into the U.S. House of Representatives that calls for each public building constructed, acquired, or altered by the General Services Administration (GSA) to incorporate, to the maximum extent possible, bird-safe building materials and design features. The legislation would require GSA to take similar actions on existing buildings, where practicable. The terms “bird-safe building materials and design features” are defined through reference to several publications addressing those topics.