Smack, splat, smack. The Geico advertisement that aired on TV in December 2021 (Angry Bird Problem? – GEICO Insurance) was supposedly funny. It featured “angry birds” smashing into home windows. The birding community saw the humor but also the trivializing of a tragic wildlife issue. The Geico ad was, to say the least, in bad taste. A protest from the birding community asked Geico to withdraw the ad.
In the real world, the estimate is that one billion birds are killed annually flying into windows. To birds, the reflections of trees and plants appear to be a safe haven, especially if they are fleeing predators or navigating foggy or stormy weather. This comes at a time when songbird populations have reportedly declined 30% since 1970. That’s three billion fewer birds.
Various cities have adopted building regulations to create a bird-safe community. San Francisco, Toronto, New York and Madison all have passed ordinances that require new home and building construction to be bird-safe. Chicago is integrating such regulations into its sustainability construction standards. Cook County requires new buildings in unincorporated areas to be bird-safe. The U.S. government requires all new federal buildings to be bird-safe.
What about Evanston?
As of now, the city does not have regulations to ensure bird-safe buildings are constructed here. Staff changes have stalled the revisions in the green building code that would specify criteria to make a building safe for birds. Meanwhile, a group of Evanston bird advocates has stepped into the void, creating Bird-Friendly Evanston to help developers find solutions until a revised code is adopted.
When a new office or residential building is proposed in Evanston, the developer must go before the Design and Project Review Committee. The committee reviews issues such as parking, traffic implications, site details and drainage. The committee also now asks developers to include bird-safe features in their designs.
Bird-Friendly Evanston often meets with developers even before they go before the committee. Developers have been extremely receptive to meetings and appreciate the suggestions and materials provided by BFE. For example, when Burger King announced it was closing its Clark Street restaurant across from Northwestern, members of BFE were alert to the probability that a new building would replace it. Sure enough, it didn’t take long for a proposal to surface. Bird-Friendly Evanston wrote to the developers asking if the group would be interested in meeting about bird-safe features that could be incorporated in the building. Useful conversations are ongoing.
BFE looks at the amount and reflectivity of glass, the types of railings, whether landscaping elements are reflected in the glass, the effects of green roofs, whether there are see-through corners or walkways and other design issues, then meets with the developer to discuss accommodations to mitigate any concerns.
Other prominent examples: Northlight Theater is aiming to be bird-friendly. The YWCA installed bird-friendly glass and agreed to watch for bird collisions to see how it was working. So far, BFE has worked with developers on 22 Evanston buildings and developers have incorporated many of Bird-Friendly Evanston’s bird-safe recommendations.
Glass is not the only feature that threatens birds. Lighting, especially during spring and fall migration, attracts birds. Toronto, New York and Chicago, among other cities, have adopted Lights Out Programs in which buildings voluntarily turn off lights from 11 p.m. to dawn during migrations. Bright lights disorient birds, drawing them to buildings and resulting in building collisions and deaths. Birds use up energy they need for migration and breeding, flying around in confusion and eventually becoming exhausted and unable to dodge predators and other threats, like glass.
Tall buildings with bright lights and lots of glass are obvious threats to birds. But even small buildings, condos, apartment buildings and single-family homes use glass and artificial lighting at night that can disrupt birds. Birds migrate along the lakefront, and then spread out into the Evanston area to rest and forage early in the morning. Migrating birds are often seen refueling in back yards, as well as wild areas with no buildings.
Evanston residents can take steps to make their homes and businesses bird-safe. A single hawk decal glued to a window does not work to deter a bird. Various window treatments are available, from inexpensive home-made designs to store-bought solutions. And excess outdoor safety lighting, for example, can be replaced by timers.
Bird-Friendly Evanston recommends this website to help residents make their homes, offices, schools and places of worship bird-safe.
Anyone who finds an injured bird should call Chicago Bird Collision Monitors at 773 988-1867.
If you need help with a bird collision problem, email Bird-Friendly Evanston at firstname.lastname@example.org