Bird-Friendly Building Design

Bird-Friendly Building Design

The fritted design of bird-friendly glass at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center allows birds to see the building's glass and avoid collisions; since a renovation to the building, bird collisions have been reduced by as much as 90 percent. Photo: Stephanie Kale
Because of research programs like our own Project Safe Flight, we now understand that up to one billion birds are killed in collisions with glass across the U.S. each year. As the conservation community has come to grasp the gravity of this threat to birds over recent decades, architects and design professionals have responded to the growing call for bird-friendly design. 
 
Today there are solutions available that make glass visible to birds, options for bird-friendly construction materials, and a multitude of ways to design buildings to minimize their risk of harming birds. The glass facades of modern office buildings are not only dangerous to birds; they can also dramatically increase energy consumption for heating and cooling. As a result, bird-friendly design elements are now often considered an integral part of sustainable design.
 
The Statue of Liberty Museum, designed by FXCollaborative and completed in 2019, employs low-reflective, insulated glass with an original frit pattern to deter bird collisions. Photo: Iwan Baan, courtesy of FXCollaborative "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> The Statue of Liberty Museum, designed by FXCollaborative and completed in 2019, employs low-reflective, insulated glass with an original frit pattern to deter bird collisions. Photo: Iwan Baan, courtesy of FXCollaborative

In order to promote the adoption of bird-friendly design both locally and as an industry standard, we support bird-friendly policy and legislation through grassroots advocacy campaigns and outreach to stakeholders in New York City government. Our professional outreach and education includes seminars based on Bird-Friendly Building Design, our joint publication with American Bird Conservancy.
Postcards to government officials were part of NYC Audubon’s successful advocacy for bird-friendly building legislation in New York City. Photo: NYC Audubon
Postcards to government officials were part of NYC Audubon’s successful advocacy for bird-friendly building legislation in New York City. Photo: NYC Audubon
Policy and Legislation
December 2019 marked a major victory for NYC’s birds. The New York City Council passed Initiative 1482-2019, now Local Law 15, the most comprehensive bird-friendly building legislation in the U.S. This bill amends the New York City building code to require that new construction, and significantly altered buildings, use bird-friendly materials. The bill became law January 10, 2020, and goes into effect one year later, with bird-friendly buildings being built or adapted as early as January 2021. 
 
Passing Int. 1482-2019 took an enormous group effort, and it was a long time coming. NYC Audubon advocated for passage of the bill, originally introduced by Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Rafael Espinal, with a collaborative working group composed of members of the Bird-Safe Buildings Alliance (including representatives from NYC Audubon, American Bird Conservancy, and the architectural firms FXCollaborative and Ennead, as well as Alan Steel from the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, American Institute of Architects New York, and volunteer lawyers and policy advocates). 
 
We worked with the City Council and the Mayor’s Office, and took into account the practical concerns of industry stakeholders such as the Real Estate Board of New York, to strengthen the bill through amendments that made it effective in saving birds, reasonable for building owners, and enforceable. 
 
The resulting final version of Int. 1482/Local Law 15 requires bird-friendly materials (not just glass) uniformly on 90 percent of facades up to 75 feet; up to 12 feet above green roofs; and at all glass railings and other hazardous elements, regardless of how high they are located on a building’s exterior. 
Much work remains to be done to make New York City safe for migrating birds. Photo of Tree Swallow in Jamaica Bay: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/144871758@N05/" target="_blank">Ryan F. Mandelbaum</a>
Much work remains to be done to make New York City safe for migrating birds. Photo of Tree Swallow in Jamaica Bay: Ryan F. Mandelbaum
Future Policy and Advocacy Efforts
Int. 1482/Local Law 15 addresses new and substantially renovated buildings in New York City. Existing buildings are our next challenge. Until we can secure legislation that would address such existing structures, we must identify the deadliest buildings, individually approach building owners and key tenants, offer assistance, and encourage the installation of simple remedies
 
You can help us protect birds from collisions:   

The combination of steel and low-reflective glass panels employed in the 2013 Jacob K. Javits Convention Center renovation reduced bird deaths at the site by over 90 percent.
The combination of steel and low-reflective glass panels employed in the 2013 Jacob K. Javits Convention Center renovation reduced bird deaths at the site by over 90 percent.
Bird-Friendly Design Successes
Since the inception of Project Safe Flight in 1997, NYC Audubon has advocated for bird-friendly solutions where our monitoring volunteers have found high numbers of window-collision victims. An early success was the 2005 alteration of the Morgan General Mail Facility building, in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. Windows reflecting greenery there were the source of many bird deaths; building management agreed to replace the windows with opaque panels, eliminating the problem.


Continued collection of Project Safe Flight collision data soon supported another victory for birds in New York City: the 2013 renovation of Manhattan’s Jacob K. Javits Center marked the first time a major New York City building was retrofitted with bird-friendly glass. The innovative renovation, carried out by architectural firms FXFowle and Epstein in consultation with NYC Audubon, resulted in a drop in bird–building collisions at the site of over 90 percent. The new facade also made the building more energy-efficient, while a seven-acre green roof included in the project has since become a site of ongoing wildlife monitoring work by the NYC Audubon science team.

The renovated Jacob K. Javits Convention Center incorporates a bird-friendly facade and a seven-acre green roof. Photo courtesy of Jacob K. Javits Convention Center "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> The renovated Jacob K. Javits Convention Center incorporates a bird-friendly facade and a seven-acre green roof. Photo courtesy of Jacob K. Javits Convention Center

The original Javits Center, completed in 1986, was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect I. M. Pei as a modern crystal palace. Project Safe Flight volunteers monitored the site for nine years, and came to rate the building as one of the City’s greatest causes of collision deaths, perhaps because the original dark glass was highly reflective. In its renovation, the Javits Center replaced nearly one-third of its glass with stainless steel panels, while the remaining glass areas were substituted by low-reflection glass less than half as reflective as the original glass. The new glass panes include a frit-dot pattern that alerts birds to the presence of a solid barrier, while blurring reflected images. The new materials also made the building easier to heat and cool, reducing energy needs by over 25 percent from the pre-renovated building. 


The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is now green and revitalized, more practical and beautiful than it’s ever been. NYC Audubon has continued to monitor the building for bird collisions. The Javits Center is a huge success story, going from the top “bad” building in the City to the bottom of the list, and is an example of innovation that we hope is the first among many more to come. Read more about the Javits Center green roof and NYC Audubon's wildlife monitoring work.
NYC Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Building Design course being taught at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Photo: NYC Audubon
NYC Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Building Design course being taught at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Photo: NYC Audubon
Take a Course in Bird-Friendly Building Design
Since 2011, NYC Audubon has taught a “Bird-Friendly Building Design” class at architectural firms in the City. The course, developed by the American Bird Conservancy, offers continuing education credit, and teaches the causes of collisions, the hazards buildings present for birds, and the range of solutions and strategies that can be employed to mitigate those risks. As of spring 2020, around 500 NYC architects have taken the class. It can also be adapted for developers, contractors, or other professionals who wish to learn more. If interested in taking our class, email bird-friendly-design@nycaudubon.org.
 
 
NYC Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Building Design course being taught at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Photo: NYC Audubon
NYC Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Building Design course being taught at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Photo: NYC Audubon
Read Our Bird-Friendly Building Design Manual
Learn more about bird-friendly design principles in NYC Audubon’s joint publication with the American Bird Conservancy, Bird-Friendly Building Design. First published in 2007 and now in wide circulation among architects and builders around the country, this landmark publication is a manual for architects, landscape designers, engineers, glass technicians, developers, building managers, government officials, and the general public. 
 
Bird safety in buildings is integral to the "green" sustainable building movement, and the guidelines suggest strategies that complement the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating system. The guidelines also suggest ways to retrofit existing buildings. Bird-Friendly Building Design is an important resource for all people in the building and design industries as well as policy makers.
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If you would like more information on bird-friendly design, or to request an AIA-accredited training session to receive continuing education credits, please contact us at bird-friendly-design@nycaudubon.org.