Façade shaping and designing for bird safety

Bird-friendly sunshade on the Levin Neuroscience Building on the University of Pennsylvania campus. Photo by Gregory Benson.

Façade shaping and designing for bird safety involves incorporating architectural features and design elements that prevent bird collisions with buildings. Birds often fly into windows and reflective surfaces because they cannot distinguish these surfaces from the open sky or habitat reflections. It is estimated that bird collisions with buildings account for over a billion bird fatalities annually in the United States alone (Brown et al., 2021). The primary goal of bird-safe façade design is to make these surfaces more visible and less confusing to birds.

Tall buildings often pose a significant risk for bird collisions. Incorporating bird-safe design elements can help make these structures more visible to birds, significantly reducing the likelihood of bird collisions.

Following are some examples of design strategies to make the facade safer for birds:

Patterned or fritted glass: Using glass with patterns or fritting that birds can see helps them avoid collisions. These patterns can be integrated aesthetically into the building design (Riding, 2020).

Decals and films: Applying decals, UV films, or other markers to large glass surfaces can break up reflections and make the glass more visible to birds (Riding, 2020).

External shading devices: Installing external shading devices like louvres, blinds, or mesh can provide a physical barrier, and help reduce reflections and make glass surfaces less hazardous to birds (Beatley, 2020). 

Green Walls: Vegetated façades not only provide habitat for birds but also reduce the reflectivity of glass surfaces. They can be designed with native plants to support local bird species (Bowes, 2020). See green walls.

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Name of NbS

Façade shaping and designing for bird safety

Type of NbS

 Engineered interventions (non-vegetation)

Location

  • Urban
Bird protection glass. Photo by Glas Trösch.

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

Indigenous knowledge systems in Te Moananaui Oceania are built on a profound respect for nature and all living beings. The concept of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) in Māori culture in Aotearoa New Zealand, for instance, reflects a commitment to protecting and managing ecosystems ad the life within them. This includes a deep understanding of bird species and their behaviours. As another example, in Samoan mythology, certain birds are considered by some as messengers or manifestations of deities and ancestors (aitu). Protecting birds is therefore seen as preserving a vital link to the spiritual world (Olson, 1997). Modern bird-safe designs can be seen as an extension of these practices, providing safe urban spaces for birds.

Climate change benefits
  • Increased temperatures
  • Urban heat island effect

Many bird-safe design elements, such as external shading devices (louvres, blinds, screens), reduce heat gain from the sun into buildings. Vegetated façades and green roofs help mitigate the urban heat island effect by cooling the surrounding air through evapotranspiration and providing shade. Both of these reduce the overall energy demand for cooling in urban areas. This lowers the need for air conditioning, thereby reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions (Szurlej-Kielańska et al., 2021). 

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Energy security
  • Empowerment/equality

Incorporating bird-safe designs into building façades often involves the use of visually appealing elements such as patterns, textures, or glass treatments. These features can enhance the aesthetic appeal of buildings, contributing to more visually pleasing urban landscapes.

Bird-safe designs provide opportunities for public education about biodiversity and conservation. Informational signage, community workshops, and school programs can leverage these designs to teach residents about the importance of protecting urban wildlife.

Cities can integrate bird-safe designs with public art, creating murals and installations that educate the public about bird conservation and celebrate local biodiversity  (Riding, 2020).

Connecting with nature in urban settings, has been shown to have positive effects on mental health and well-being (Soderlund and Newman, 2015). Bird-safe building designs contribute to creating environments where people can experience the presence of wildlife, fostering a sense of connection to nature and enhancing overall quality of life.

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Ecological and biodiversity benefits
  • Genetic resources
  • Habitat provision
  • Species maintenance

Bird-safe designs directly address the issue of bird collisions, which are a significant cause of avian mortality in urban areas  (Riding, 2020). By preventing these collisions, such designs contribute to the conservation of bird populations and overall urban biodiversity. Patterned glass creates safer urban environments for birds, allowing them to navigate through cities without the risk of collisions. Safe building designs ensure that birds can move freely between habitats, and stepping-stone areas, supporting connectivity and ecological resilience in urban landscapes (Szurlej-Kielańska et al., 2021).

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Technical requirements

Implementing and maintaining bird-safe façade designs, such as louvre systems and patterned/fritted glass, requires careful consideration of technical requirements to ensure effectiveness, durability, and sustainability.

Patterns on fritted glass can include dots, stripes, or other shapes. Regular cleaning is essential to maintain the visibility of the patterns to birds and ensure the glass remains clear for human use. Periodic inspections should check for any deterioration of the patterns or damage to the glass. Prompt repairs or reapplication of patterns may be necessary to ensure continued effectiveness.

The spacing and angle of louvres if employed, must be designed to minimise reflections and maximise visibility to birds. Typically, horizontal louvres should be spaced closely enough to break up reflections but allow sufficient light and airflow. Louvres should be cleaned periodically to remove dirt, debris, and bird droppings. This maintenance ensures they remain effective in reducing reflections and maintaining their aesthetic appearance.

Issues and Barriers

The upfront investment for bird-safe materials, particularly for patterned/fritted glass and custom louvre systems, can be significantly higher than standard materials (Gelder, 2003). This can be a major barrier, especially for smaller projects or in regions with limited funding. Ongoing maintenance to keep these systems effective and aesthetically pleasing can also be costly, potentially deterring building owners from choosing bird-safe designs. The tropical and subtropical climates in many parts of Te Moananui Oceania can pose challenges for certain materials. For example, high humidity and salt air can accelerate the deterioration of some glass treatments and metal louvre systems.

Opportunities

Te Moananui Oceania is home to many unique bird species found nowhere else in the world. Implementing bird-safe designs can protect these vulnerable populations, contributing to global biodiversity conservation efforts (Szurlej-Kielańska et al., 2021).

Incorporating bird-safe designs with green roofs, green walls, vegetation-integrated buildings, and other green infrastructure can create urban habitats that support a variety of species, enhancing overall urban biodiversity.

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Financial case

Estimating the cost-benefit of implementing bird-safe façade designs, such as louvre systems and patterned/fritted glass, involves analysing both the initial costs and the long-term benefits. While the initial costs of bird-safe façade designs can be substantial, the long-term benefits, including energy savings, compliance with regulations, enhanced property value, and ecological contributions, can offset these costs. In Te Moananui Oceania, biodiversity is a critical concern, and the ecological and societal benefits of protecting bird populations add significant value to these investments.

Bosco verticale, Milan, Italy. Building Integration of vegetation. Public Domain.
References

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