Authored by Dr. Daniel Klem, world-renowned ornithologist and expert in the area of bird deterrence. Billions of birds are killed flying into sheet glass installed in buildings as clear and reflective windows. No reasonable person condones these unintended and unwanted tragedies caused by one of the most useful and aesthetically attractive building materials. There are solutions to make windows safe for birds and humans. History has revealed that the use of the legal system is a far more powerful means of stimulating action to protect birds from windows than relying on the voluntary efforts of the many constituencies involved in this important conservation issue.


            International treaties, provincial and state regional laws, county, city and other municipal ordinances and zoning regulations directly and indirectly address preventing bird fatalities resulting from window strikes.

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

A nationwide US federal Bird Safe Buildings Act of 2019 (H.R. Bill 191) is pending legislation currently under congressional consideration. This bipartisan supported bill would require public buildings incorporate bird safe building materials and architecture. Similar state laws are pending in Maryland, New York, Washington, District of Columbia (DC), and Cook County, Illinois. Although regional legislation almost exclusively is directed to retrofitting, remodeling and new construction of government buildings, the hope is that mandatory bird-safe government practices will serve as a model and example to stimulate the same practices for private commercial structures.

Specific mandatory ordinances and zoning regulations to prevent bird-window collisions at government and commercial buildings have been adopted by the following municipalities: Mountain View, Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco, San Jose in California; Highland Park, Illinois, and Portland, Oregon; Markham and Toronto, Ontario. A similar Bird Friendly Design Ordinance (Chapter 13-150) is pending before the City Council of Chicago, Illinois.

Voluntary recommendations have been formalized in Calgary, Alberta and Vancouver, British Columbia; in the statewide California Green Building Code, and in California cities of Palo Alto and Sunnyvale; and the village of Barrington, Illinois. The drafting of each of these legislative policies have been guided by published bird-safe building design guidelines by the American Bird Conservancy, and the planning authorities and their avian conservation cooperators in the cities of Calgary, Markham, New York, Oakland, Portland, San Francisco, Toronto, and Vancouver.


            One current progressive step is a grant to the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), an international organization, by the Ontario Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks to develop Bird Friendly Building Design (CSA A460). This work has recently completed a public review comment period, and is nearing completion and release to guide bird-safe-building industry practices. When completed it promises to be a model for bird-safe building construction worldwide.


            Once informed of the scale and scope of the threat sheet glass poses to bird life, it is obvious to any reasonable person that making our windows safe for birds is required to save billions of their lives worldwide. Humans can solve this environmental problem, and the cooperation and action of the building industry is essential to its solution. In my view, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Bird Friendly Building Design standard will be a model for bird-safe building construction worldwide.


            Dr. Christine Sheppard of the American Bird Conservancy and Ms. Mary Coolidge of the Audubon Society of Portland deserve credit for periodically keeping track and documenting bird-safe building legislation and regulation, from which most of the content of this article relied.


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