Birds are dying by flying into buildings. What does safer architecture look like?

It seems like there’s a high-rise building being built on every block in Los Angeles these days, which might not be great news for the city’s avian inhabitants. 

Hundreds of millions of birds die each year from colliding with buildings, mainly due to shiny glass exteriors that confuse them during flight. 

“Birds don’t see glass as a barrier,” says Travis Longcore, president of the Los Angeles Audubon Society. “They see the reflection of either trees or the sky in it, and think that it’s the trees of the sky, not the glass.” 

Tall buildings can be particularly dangerous to birds migrating at night, when they can get disoriented by bright lights. But the majority of bird and building collisions actually happen at low-rise buildings and residences, says Longcore.  

“It happens everywhere there is glass and birds. We have studies from San Francisco looking at bird collisions, and we have anecdotal observations in Los Angeles and a pretty impressive migration that comes through here in the spring in the fall,” says Longcore. “So birds are being killed at buildings in Los Angeles.” 

Fortunately, there are ways to make architecture safer for birds — something that Longcore and other environmental activists would like to see implemented in LA and beyond.

“There are a number of ways that architects and designers can [make buildings more bird-friendly], by breaking up expanses of glass, by using different glass products that may have fritting,” he says. 

Buildings can also incorporate ultraviolet coatings, which can be perceived by birds (but not humans). Breaking up big walls of glass can also have the added benefit of decreasing cooling costs, says Longcore.

Recently, the LA Audubon and PETA asked for bird mortality to be considered as part of an environmental review for a new 22-foot-tall skyscraper called The Star in Hollywood. As Los Angeles continues to grow upward, Longcore says architects need to be more mindful of how their buildings may harm birds. 

“It just needs to be identified as an issue so that [architects] can figure out how they want to solve it,” says Longcore. “The problem with [The Star] is that the environmental review didn’t consider mortality at all, and so the request here is go back and look at this and figure out how to solve that problem.”

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