Skyscrapers are considered a feat of modern-day engineering and architecture. While we all recognize some of their negative impacts on the planet, we are also seeing the body count of our bird populations increasing to worrisome numbers due to their collisions with these superstructures.
As birds contribute in so many ways to a balanced ecosystem, such as pollination, insect control and even seed distribution to help regrow trees, their decline has some staggering effects. With their numbers declining so rapidly in building collisions, conservation and animal rights groups such as Audubon and PETA are getting involved in keeping the skies safe and implementing bird-friendly designs.
There are several factors that conservationists, scientists and those in the building community are beginning to consider. By studying such factors, we can help alter future building plans to mitigate some of the risks posed to our feathered friends.
Light pollution affects us all. In fact, light pollution from cities has been cited as having many negative effects on a long list of species, with birds among them. Many coastal cities have mandated no-light nights for homes near water or intercoastal waterways in an effort to save turtles. Turtles become confused by lights after laying their eggs and cannot find their way back to the water.
Meanwhile, birds use stars and the earth‘s magnetic field as navigation tools for their migration and to get from place to place. As birds are attracted to the bright lights that burn in our cities, they are known to fly off course towards the light source. This creates a higher risk for injury and death as they collide with buildings.
There are some pilot programs that have implemented the lights-out approach taken with the turtle population and used it for bird populations. These programs darken our skyscrapers and buildings at night to reduce attracting the birds from flying at lower altitudes. The data has yet to be analyzed but initial improvements are hopeful. We may see city mandates all over the world adopt this strategy.
Neither humans nor birds can see transparent glass, but humans have learned visual cues, such as door frames or window mullions to keep us from crashing through a glass door. Birds don’t possess that rationality and, therefore, interpret the reflected images as real. This is especially problematic if the glass reflects a food source or escape.
Glass poses a threat for birds as they encounter not only a behemoth of a skyscraper but also homes and apartment buildings that utilize the material.
Further, the visual impact of large glass panes has long been a choice of architects as a finish product for their buildings’ exteriors. Sometimes, they go as far as covering the entire facade of a towering skyscraper.
We can still use glass, but it’s been suggested that augmentations be made. Augmentations such as mottled or textured glass would send a visual message to the birds that their flight pattern is disrupted by a structure ahead, allowing them to reroute. Colored glass is also a commonly employed solution as is fritted glass, which creates lines the birds can see but humans cannot.
Rooftop gardens have been trending in the green build movement for decades but are now being studied as a place of respite for both flora and fauna. While these urban gardens can produce fruit and vegetables in areas with limited space to garden, they also promote a healthy ecosystem of insects and wildlife — birds included.
Rooftops can offer a landing space for weary birds on their long migratory journey. And with the gardens well off the ground, they are safe spaces for birds that might otherwise encounter predators.
It’s not just the inhabitants of the building that can benefit from these gardens. We can share our space with life that’s being pushed out of its natural habitats.
The Star building in Los Angeles
The proposed Star building in Los Angeles, California, which would rise 22 stories high above its distinctive low-slung skyline, has been targeted by many conservationists to have its all-glass, egg-shaped structure augmented.
Serious pushback is coming from high-profile organizations that are citing concerns about the building’s design effectively being a death trap for migrating birds. Los Angeles is located on a prominent spring migratory route, making the building all the more of a concern.
Proponents of the building say their rooftop garden as well as some “open air sky gardens” will offer a respite for migrating birds. Studies on the nesting habits of birds were done for the building’s site, but PETA is asking for more extensive avian-friendly considerations.
It’s important to remember that bird-friendly ordinances, or even voluntary compliance, shouldn’t be limited only to our skyscrapers but our homes and low-rises as well. With the solutions being low-cost, we should all take into consideration implementing them.
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