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Birds, Buildings and Sustainability


The rise of sustainability has prompted facility managers in all types of institutional and commercial facilities to rethink many activities and product decisions. Since the goal of sustainability is to protect and improve the environment, managers have taken a close look at the way their operations impact the environment.

One area of sustainability that is receiving increased attention is the impact of buildings with large amounts of exterior glass surfaces on the flight paths of birds.

Read: Taking control of birds around facilities

A new expansion of the Howard County (Md.) Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant education center features big glass windows allowing for generous views of the native plant garden and historic farmstead. There was just one problem: It was killing birds.

For an organization that values sustainability, that was an issue, says executive director Meg Boyd. So she reached out to a local group called Safe Skies Maryland for help.

“It was something that we wanted to take action on as soon as possible,” she says. During the spring and fall migration seasons, birds flock to Howard County to breed or as a stopover on their routes north or south.

“Howard County is just a beautiful place for birds,” says Beth Decker, director of Safe Skies Maryland. “We have lakes and parks and green spaces, tree cover and functioning habitat. We have a lot of bird watching activities.”

But they are at risk, Decker says. Migrating birds can not perceive glass. Thinking it is open space, they frequently fly into windows at full speed. Usually, the impact kills them. Safe Skies wants to raise awareness of the growing problem of bird window collisions.

As many as 1 billion birds — mostly songbirds — are estimated to die every year in the U.S. from building collisions, according to a 2014 study by researchers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

Read: Bird control: Answers for the birds

The problem could get worse, says Decker, as the use of glass becomes more prevalent in modern architecture. Buildings in downtown Columbia, Md., gleam with broad windows that allow in natural light and shine from the outside. Many are avian death traps, Decker says, but “you can use a lot of glass, and you can do it in a sustainable way.”

This Quick Read was submitted by Dan Hounsell — dan.hounsell@tradepressmedia.com — editor-in-chief of Facility Maintenance Decisions, and chief editor of Facilitiesnet.com.

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