News Article | November 1, 2016
Architects’ growing affinity for glassy buildings has given the world better views, more natural light, sexier skylines—and a lot of dead birds. The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates about 750 million birds perish annually flying into glass façades, which can be hard to distinguish from open airspace. The problem is so bad in some places that skyscraper owners hire workers to remove expired birds from the bottoms of their buildings. Guy Maxwell, a partner at New York-based Ennead Architects, is on a mission to mitigate this fowl holocaust. A bird lover his entire life, he first became aware of architecture’s deadly impact on avifauna 15 years ago, shortly after the completion of his firm’s Rose Center for Earth and Space at NYC’s American Museum of Natural History. The enormous glass cube afforded unimpeded views of the spherical Hayden Planetarium within, but was a deadly invisible barrier to birds. Maxwell has been working to protect feathered species ever since. Working with him is an informal circle of anti-collision advocates that includes members of the American Bird Conservancy, New York City Audubon, New Jersey Audubon, and the Bird Safe Glass Foundation. (“It really takes a gang of merry pranksters to pull this off,” says Maxwell.) Together, they’ve made progress on bird-safe research, bird-safe building regulations, bird-safe glass, and bird-safety awareness, spurring changes that have already had a large, ahem, impact. Among their recent accomplishments is the American Bird Conservancy’s creation of two avian research facilities—one at the Powdermill Nature Reserve, about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, the other inside a modified shipping container at the Bronx Zoo. (The Bronx tunnel’s design was overseen, in part, by Maxwell and his colleagues at Ennead’s research-intensive division, Ennead Lab.) Spearheaded by American Bird Conservancy Bird Collisions Campaign Manager Christine Sheppard, these testing tunnels are the only ones of their kind in the US, and allow researchers to investigate which glass treatments and lighting conditions birds will fly toward or avoid. They’ve learned, for instance, that birds won’t try to fly through vertical line patterns that are less than four inches apart, and that line patterns tend to be more effective at preventing collisions than dotted ones. Using this knowledge, Maxwell, Sheppard, and their confederates have consulted with glass manufacturers like Viracon, Guardian, Bendheim, and Arnold Glas to help produce products like ceramic frit patterns and UV coatings—treatments that are visible to birds and can alert them to the presence of dangerous physical barriers. The group’s biggest policy achievement came in 2011, when it partnered with the US Green Building Council to launch a LEED pilot credit #55 for incorporating “bird collision deterrence” into new buildings. The goal: Make buildings as visible to birds as possible, through glass technologies, exterior building treatments like screens and louvers, and decreased night lighting levels. Maxwell says it has since become LEED’s most popular pilot credit. Other victories include legislation (initiated by Golden Gate Audubon) in San Francisco, Oakland, and other Bay Area cities establishing citywide bird safe building standards. Mandatory and voluntary ordinances have been passed in New York, Minnesota, and Toronto, as well. Much of the team’s research is embodied in Ennead’s Bridge for Laboratory Sciences at Vassar College. The bridge-like classroom-cum-laboratory is a case study in bird-safe architecture. Vertical metal sunscreens cover its long, curving façade. Its windows are coated in Arnold Glas’s Ornilux, a UV coating visible only to birds, and various hues of ceramic fritting (the range of colors ensures that the lines are visible to birds from a variety of species). The concept of bird safety is changing architecture, Maxwell says. Exceptional bird-friendly designs have been completed across the country, from the fritted glass windows of Weiss Manfredi Architects’ Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center, to AJC Architects’ Tracy Aviary Visitor Center in Salt Lake City, which is fronted by fractured metal screens that keep birds from flying into its windows. “There’s generally an awareness of this problem now,” says Maxwell. “You see architects considering this when before they had no idea it was even a problem.” The public is becoming more aware of the problem, too. New York City Audubon has even created an online portal, called D-Bird, where people can report building-related bird mortalities. Meanwhile, Maxwell and his band of bird advocates are seeking funding to ramp up their research and advocacy. They would like to build several more labs along the east coast, fight for more bird-safety legislation, and see bird-friendliness become an automatic consideration for architects. “I’m amazed that there are still many people who don’t realize the enormity of the problem,” Maxwell says.
Washburn B.E.,U.S. Department of Agriculture |
Elbin S.B.,New York City Audubon |
Davis C.,201 County Route 631
Waterbirds | Year: 2016
During the 20th century, gull populations in North America experienced considerable changes in abundance and geographic ranges. The objective of this study was to describe population trends of Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus) and Great Black-backed Gulls (L. marinus) in the New York Bight, USA, over a 40-year period (1974-2013). A variety of data sources using different survey methods provided estimates of the number of breeding pairs for both species. In the Long Island portion of the New York Bight, overall Herring and Great Black-backed gull nesting populations appear to have fluctuated considerably in size during this time period, and the largest numbers of breeding individuals of these two species occurred in the 1980s. In coastal New Jersey, the Herring Gull nesting population has remained relatively constant, whereas the Great Black-backed Gull nesting population has increased. Individual nesting colonies are dynamic and can vary in size considerably during even short time periods. Several factors, including sea-level changes and the availability of anthropogenic food sources (i.e., at landfills and fisheries by-catch), likely have strongly influenced individual colonies and the overall Herring and Great Blackbacked gull breeding populations in the New York Bight.
Parkins K.L.,New York City Audubon |
Parkins K.L.,Fordham University |
Elbin S.B.,New York City Audubon |
Barnes E.,New York City Audubon |
Barnes E.,New York University
Northeastern Naturalist | Year: 2015
Building collisions are a significant threat to birds in North America, and urban areas can be particularly hazardous to birds using city parks as stopover habitat. We examined the effects of light and glass on bird-building collisions in an urban park using New York City Audubon's collision-monitoring data from fall migration 2013 and photographic analysis of building facades. We found a significant positive relationship between the number of collisions and interior building light (rho = 1); however, the amount of light was strongly correlated with the amount of glass in building facades (r2 = 0.82). Carcass persistence at the site was examined using tagged, dead birds. Only 37 percent of carcasses were found by our monitors, suggesting that our estimate of bird mortality due to collisions has been too conservative. The amount of glass on a building facade may have an equal or greater effect on bird- building collisions than the amount of light emitted from the facade. Mitigation of both light and glass are needed to reduce bird-building collisions in urban areas. © Author(s) 2015.
Craig E.C.,Columbia University |
Elbin S.B.,New York City Audubon |
Danoff-Burg J.A.,Columbia University |
Palmer M.I.,Columbia University
Waterbirds | Year: 2012
Colonially nesting waterbirds transfer large quantities of aquatically derived nutrients into terrestrial systems, potentially altering community and ecosystem structure. Over the past three decades, the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) has undergone rapid population expansion throughout much of its historic range in North America, recolonizing habitats that had not supported colonial waterbirds for decades. Mounting evidence suggests that these populations are degrading the habitats they colonize primarily through the destruction of vegetation and the alteration of soil conditions. The study examined the effects of cormorants and cooccurring long-legged wading bird species including Black-crowned Night-Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax). Great Egrets (Ardea alba) and Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula) on their nesting habitats by observing plant and arthropod community structure as well as soil and leaf litter characteristics at colonized and non-colonized sites on two islands in New York Harbor. Understory plant species richness and total plant cover were reduced, and the arthropod community shifted from primarily plant feeders to primarily carrion and dung feeders beneath cormorant nests in comparison to adjacent non-colonized habitats. On the island where cormorants have been established longer, the colony tended to be denser and larger and was associated with larger ecological impacts on plants, arthropods and soils. Long-legged wading bird colonies and more recently established cormorant colonies were smaller, less dense, and were generally associated with fewer ecological impacts.