Help Protect North American Wildlife With Bird-Friendly Construction Design

Up to one billion birds die every year in North America when they hit glass walls and windows. Yet preventing such losses is relatively easy and doesn’t add to building costs if bird-friendly building design is considered from the outset.
By Kathy Abusow and Mike Parr
July 6, 2020

A study in Science found a decline of more than 25% in the number of North American birds since 1970.

An increased focus on managing forests sustainably and working to recover bird populations could help stem this massive decline. The long-term partnership between the two organizations is an example of success in sustainably managing bird populations in forested landscapes and cityscapes.

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) focuses on the conservation of birds and their habitat across the Americas; the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) focuses on advancing sustainability through forest-focused collaborations including forest-based research, conservation and education programs.

SFI-certified organizations manage hundreds of millions of acres of forestland, so the partnership has allowed ABC to implement bird conservation and recovery strategies at landscape and local scales. The research conducted in these managed forests has advanced the understanding of the habitats of several species of concern, so that the organizations can reverse their decline.

The partnership also allows SFI-certified organizations to access the latest information on bird habitat and conservation needs, which can be used to improve sustainable forest management on a continual basis.

The implications of scale are vital to the work done in sustainable forest management and conserving bird habitats. For example, at the local, forest level, the organizations will look for ways to help meet the survival needs of specific forest-dwelling birds by ensuring appropriate habitat.

Swallow-tailed Kites that breed in managed forests of the Southeast forage on large insects over open areas and young forests. These striking black and white raptors depend on tall pine trees to use as nesting sites.

SFI-certified organizations share and exchange information with SFI and ABC about forest management conditions to help these populations succeed. In this way, sustainable forest management can help preserve the habitat of the Swallow-tailed Kite by providing a variety of tree ages and conditions, while also protecting important nesting trees.

From identifying the types of tree perches Yellow-breasted Chats use to sing, to maintaining ground cover and brush piles for the small mammals hawks feed on, the organizations working closely together.

Construction Design

But it’s not just in forests that we must work to improve bird conservation.

In cities, it’s birds crashing into towers of glass that’s a primary concern. Up to one billion birds die every year in North America when they hit glass walls and windows. Yet preventing such losses is relatively easy and doesn’t add to building costs if bird-friendly building design is considered from the outset.

Companies certified to the SFI forest management standards provide forest products such as window frames that are aligned with green building standards like the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED.

ABC has worked with architects, designers, manufacturers and building owners to assess many products that help birds avoid collisions with glass panes. These products include options from simple adhesive stickers with dotted patterns to glass embedded with polyamide threads that deter bird collisions.

As architects and builders increase their understanding of how to prevent collisions, more of them are incorporate bird-friendly design into their buildings. And the organizations look forward to working with the USGBC and other green building groups to further improve bird-friendly designs.

Whether the focus is forested landscapes or cityscapes, our partnership has been effective in conserving and recovering birds—but more needs to be done. Working together, we can use our shared expertise to find solutions for a more sustainable world—on every level.

by Kathy Abusow

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