Birds are everywhere. Sometimes the first sound of my morning is the song of a green parrot in front of the window. Later in the day in Pershing Square or FIDM Park during my lunch break, I’ll watch pigeons or sparrows wandering around in the hopes of some leftover food from the lunch crowd. It is fascinating to observe how birds have adapted to urban environments, altering their diets and navigating natural predators or manmade threats (especially pigeons and sparrows).
On the other hand, anywhere between 365 to 988 million birds die from crashing into windows in the United States every year. A staggering figure when considering these deaths equal somewhere between 2 to 10 percent of the total bird population in the United States. Birds are prone to death by crashing into windows because of their inability to discern open skies from reflections created by reflective building windows; from their perspective, buildings and the skyline are one continuous line of sight to navigate. Birds also tend to focus on distant objective, ignoring the extraneous surroundings along their route, an explanation for why birds are easily trapped within 3 or 4-sided courtyards.
In order to save bird from collision, we need to build cities more cognisant of bird behavior:
Design visual noise to send signals that bird will recognize.
Birds can fly through visible openings larger than 2 inches tall or 4 inches wide. Therefore, we should keep the reflective sight of vision or open space that bird can see smaller than 2”-4”. Balconies, window screens, varying panel materials, perforated panels, awnings that shade reflective glass, or anything else that breaks down a continuous plane of sight could help birds avoid crashing into buildings. The challenge also presents an opportunity for designers to experiment with architectural detailing across building façades, adding an element of fun and energy to their design.
Design buildings with dimmable indoor lights and outdoor architectural uplights, focusing light downward at night:
Birds are attracted to light at night much like moths are to a flame. When birds reach a light source, they can become disoriented or blinded by the glare. Attracted by bright red lights on top of towers, birds will mistakenly circle the light source, risking injury by surrounding cables attached to tower tops. The results can be disastrous, resulting in 6.8 million deaths by communication tower alone.
The total figure of preventable bird deaths per year is staggering. Designers can really make a difference, but it’s important to note most avian casualties are not attributed to collisions with skyscrapers, but instead small buildings, including single and multi-family residents. Therefore, it is our responsibility as designers to educate people about the importance of selecting the right building materials and lighting to help make Los Angeles – and every city across the globe – a safer place to live, whether feathered or not.
Additional information about a bird-friendly city: