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For the birds

Bird collisions are now your customers’ problem, which makes them your problem.

December 9, 2013  By Jim Chliboyko

The true number of birds killed or maimed or left vulnerable to
predators by window strikes is difficult to estimate, and approximations
veer wildly from the millions to upward of a billion.

The true number of birds killed or maimed or left vulnerable to predators by window strikes is difficult to estimate, and approximations veer wildly from the millions to upward of a billion. Bird expert Daniel Klem suggests that window collisions kill between one and five per cent of all migrating birds annually. “From a population standpoint, it’s a bleeding that doesn’t get replaced,” he said. Experts like Klem say modern, all-glass architectural trends have taken the problem to a level never before seen.

 For the birds  

Organizations such as Toronto’s Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) have been created to address the problem. The FLAP website features a counter of the number of birds that have died in collisions during the time you’ve been on the website. According to the website, “bird-building collision fatalities are second only to the impacts of habitat destruction. Many of these birds are species at risk that can ill-afford this additional stress.”

But people are starting to become aware of the scope of the problem.


“Over the past five years, what really changed this shift, got the momentum going, was that FLAP sat as key witnesses in precedent-setting lawsuits,” said Michael Mesure, the executive director of FLAP, about two lawsuits in particular against a pair of Toronto-area developers. “The second lawsuit, in 2013,” he said, “the judge that passed the judgment introduced a new law for the province of Ontario where anyone reflecting light off a glazed surface that harms or kills birds is technically breaking the law. It was designed for sites with excessive bird death doing little to address the problem.”

The second lawsuit Mesure refers to involved the Yonge Corporate Centre owned by Cadillac Fairview on Yonge Street in Toronto. An Ontario court ruled that reflected light from buildings constitutes harmful radiation that harms birds. That means companies are guilty of an offence under Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act if they do not take measures to mitigate these reflections. However, Cadillac Fairview was not charged with an offence because the court found it had exercised due diligence in trying to prevent the problem. According to an article on the website of law firm Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt, “The court accepted that the defendants had exercised sufficient due diligence by complying with municipal building and industry standards; implementing and maintaining a policy to respond to nocturnal light pollution; co-operating with environmental advocacy groups in bird-strike tagging programs; and conducting test installations of window treatments designed to deter bird strikes. The Court noted that the problems faced by the YCC were complex and site-specific, and that there were no ‘quick-fix solutions.’ ” Still, the precedent has been set. Building owners in Ontario can be charged if they do not do everything they can to stop birds from colliding with their buildings.

Mesure is convinced that the problem is a lot larger than most people can even begin to realize. In one instance, during one particular migration period, Mesure said, there were 500 birds killed in a six-hour period near two particular Toronto buildings. Migration period is the most dangerous to birds, and Toronto is in the middle of a major migration path for birds. Mesure said there are instances where a FLAP volunteer bends down to pick up a dead or stunned bird and one or two more literally ping off the volunteer’s back.

Some solutions to combat bird-window collisions are simple and potentially money saving, like turning off building spotlights at night, particularly during migration season. But, recently, some companies have developed some brand new choices to combat this high number of bird deaths. And these options don’t just involve those hawk-shaped cut-outs that you Scotch tape onto your windows or plastic owls (both of which apparently don’t work all that well).

“We launched in July,” said Danik Dancause of Walker Glass, regarding the company’s AviProtek line of bird-friendly window options. “At this point, it has piqued a lot of interest. People are looking to incorporate it into their designs and other firms are looking at starting their own (variations).”

Many of the window-specific solutions have to do with patterns either etched into or stuck onto the windows – specifically the outside surface of the windows – and with the density of the patterns. Walker’s solution is through patterns acid-etched on the glass. This could be done on one or both surfaces and there are a variety of choices in pattern.

But the pattern is part of the key to its effectiveness. Researchers have determined that there needs to be a constant pattern on the windows, with gaps no larger than two inches of horizontal space and four inches of vertical unmarked space. This is known as the two-by-four rule. Some San Francisco documents also point out that the space is about the size of an average handprint.

It should be mentioned also that the process of etching the glass is a particular one. It’s not a matter of being able to do this to glass already in place; the process cannot be done on glass that has already been treated. For glass already in place, there are adhesive film options, like the kind of product delivered by the Feather Friendly line of window film.

Having bird-friendly glass is a movement that has got the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) on board, as well, since October 2011, after offering Credit 55, Bird Collision Deterrence, to their Pilot Credit Library.

It doesn’t hurt to have the birders of North America on side, either.

“You would be surprised, it’s a giant activity,” said Dancause, of birding and birders. “People are underestimating it. There are at least 30 birding clubs in Quebec alone.”

But Walker isn’t the only company with bird-friendly glass options. The German company Arnold Glas, for instance, has developed Ornilux, a bird-friendly glass using UV technology, which has been available in Europe since 2006 and in North America since 2010. Arnold has offerings for both indoor and outdoor glass applications, the latter coming in handy for use in glass guardrails, amongst other purposes.

“When I first started, the awareness level was low, but people were interested,” said Lisa Welch of Arnold Glas, of its own line of bird-friendly products. “It was always a backdoor introduction. When you would tell them about the collision issue, they would say, oh, my gosh, I had no idea it was that prolific.”

Going the UV route has its own advantages, said Welch. “Ornilux is rather unique – it solves one of the biggest challenges, which is clear glass and potential loss of vision.”

As opposed to using etching or frits, Ornilux’s benefits come from its coating.

“It’s a patterned, UV-reflective coating,” said Welch. “A brand-new large piece of glass gets coated, which then gets cut into finished units. It’s not an after-market treatment. We’ve done everything from large, commercial projects, like at the University of Massachusetts, to replacing a single window at a private residence.” 

There are different kinds of Ornilux glass available, as well, some being developed with certain niches in mind, such as outdoor zoo enclosures and other outdoor purposes.

“The market for the laminated glass is just as important, there is just as much call for it,” she said. “We also have free-standing glass for windscreens, like on a balcony. The California Coastal Commission will not approve any project in their jurisdiction unless there’s a treatment on the glass.”

“And there’s been tremendous interest from the glazing industry.”

Walker’s Dancause is finding that there is, in these early days, interest from particular markets, such as Toronto, Minneapolis, Calgary and San Francisco in particular, largely because of how their municipal building guidelines are written.

“Now, Markham, Ont., as of yesterday (Oct. 31), are adopting the Toronto guidelines,” said Dancause.

Mesure warned, however, that the technology for bird-friendly glass is a young one and has not yet been perfected. But other types of technology are evolving, as well. He said that there are now ways to measure or audit how safe a particular building’s reflective surfaces are for birds, and to pinpoint certain problem areas.

Said Mesure, “In the eyes of the industry: thank God, I don’t have to protect my entire building.”

For Mesure, the bird-friendly movement has been a development a long time in coming. It wasn’t too long ago that the narrator of the FLAP film on its homepage said, “Until lights are turned off at night, and until windows are constructed differently, birds that enter our cities will continue to require our assistance.”

The glass industry, at least, seems to be attempting to get its part of it covered.

Said Dancause, “Kudos to the scientists and the glass industry. Now it’s up to them to become a part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”

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