Bird-friendly building standards in the works

Developers working in San Francisco may have to add bird crashes to the list of environmental concerns they are required to consider when designing new buildings.

The American Bird Conservancy told San Francisco Planning Commissioners Thursday that every home in the nation is responsible for an average of one to 10 bird deaths every year — and that environmental building design standards are making the problem worse.

Environmentally friendly building standards are leading to a proliferation of glass facades, while vegetated roofs can attract more bird-life towards the glass-draped buildings, Washington D.C.-based American Bird Conservancy Bird Collisions Campaign Manager Chris Sheppard said during the hearing.

“Glass is very deadly to birds,” Sheppard said. “The first time they encounter glass, it’s usually fatal as they try to fly through the glass to get to a tree that they think is on the other side.”

The Planning Department plans to meet with developers to discuss strategies to reduce bird deaths, such as mandating the use of patterned glass, city planner Craig Nikitas said.

Applying patterns to less than 10 percent of glass can reduce bird deaths by 90 percent, Sheppard said.

“Unfortunately, not everybody wants to have some version of stripes on their glass,” Sheppard said.

Because birds can see light in the ultraviolet spectrum that isn’t visible to humans, Sheppard said a technological breakthrough is possible that would allow builders to create invisible bird-saving patterns on windows and glass facades.

New York, Chicago and Toronto have already adopted bird-friendly building standards, according to Sheppard.

Sheppard’s presentation received a sympathetic response from planning commissioners, who urged planning staff to continue to work to develop on bird-friendly building standards.

“There’s no excuse any more to build in ways that would threaten any living species on this planet,” Commissioner Christina Olague said during the hearing. “We have to respect all living things.

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