Why New Buildings in NYC Are About to Become Much Safer for Birds

Glass collisions kill up to 1 billion birds in the U.S. each year. Jeremy_Ridnor/Shutterstock

Maybe you've seen it happen at your home. A bird comes soaring by, not realizing there's a window there, and collides with the glass. Hopefully, he's just dazed and slowly flies away. But researchers estimate that glass collisions kill up to 1 billion birds in the U.S. each year.

Hoping to put a dent in those numbers, New York City Council just passed new bird-friendly building legislation. The bill requires all new construction and major renovations to install bird-friendly glass on building facades below 75 feet. Some options would include glass with a pattern or with glazing.

The bill was supported by several wildlife and architectural groups. It passed in a 41-3 vote, Curbed New York reports. If it is signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio, it will take effect December 2020.

"Bird-friendly building design should not be seen as an add-on or an extra," Dr. Christine Sheppard, glass collisions program director for the American Bird Conservancy, said in a statement. "Many strategies for controlling heat, light, and even security can be bird-friendly strategies, too. These can be incorporated into almost any building style, but should be built into project design from the outset to minimize additional costs. That's why this kind of legislation is so important."

glass building reflecting trees
To a bird, this looks like trees and blue sky. It's easy to see how a bird can get confused by reflections from glass buildings. Justin Adam Lee/Shutterstock

New York City Audubon estimates that 90,000 to 230,000 birds die each year while migrating through New York City. They might stop to rest on a bush or branch and then look to see the greenery and skies reflected in the glass. When they get up, they fly into that reflection, causing themselves harm.

The bill "will reduce collisions and save migratory birds whose numbers are declining dramatically," said Kathryn Heintz, NYC Audubon executive director. "As a whole community, we must do better for the future, better for the sustainability of urban living, and better for the health of both birds and people."

New York joins several other areas in enacting bird-friendly legislation including Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco in California, as well as Portland, Oregon, Toronto, and the entire state of Minnesota.