Glazing for the Birds

Glazing for the Birds

by Frank Fulton

Originally published in Glass Canada Magazine, December 2017 Issue

It’s estimated that a mind-boggling 25 million birds are killed in Canada every year due to collisions with glass in buildings. A National Geographic article estimates the number in Canada and the U.S. could be as high as 600 million bird deaths per year. Why? Birds can’t see glass. All they see is the reflection of open skies or trees in the glass and fly towards it. Currently, 28 bird species are identified on the endangered list in the Species at Risk Act managed by Environment and Climate Change Canada. Fortunately there are groups and some municipalities out there doing something about it.

The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) Canada, was founded in 1993 and is “dedicated to safeguarding migratory birds in the urban environment through education, policy development, research, rescue and rehabilitation”. FLAP has been instrumental in working with various municipal governments to put bird-friendly guidelines in place in a number of cities across Canada.

A disproportionately high number of bird-window fatalities occur in Toronto due to its location adjacent to Lake Ontario at the convergence of two migratory flyways and its abundance of low-, mid- and high-rise buildings. In an effort to address this unnecessary and avoidable loss of life, in 2010 The City of Toronto became the first municipality in Canada, with the assistance of FLAP, to put bird-friendly building code requirements into law, known as the Toronto Green Standard.

The TGS applies to all new residential buildings four storeys and higher, all non-residential development, and low-rise residential developments containing more than five units abutting a ravine or natural area. Bird-friendly glazing must now be provided in these types of construction in 85 per cent of the glass up to 12 meters above grade or adjacent treelines, four meters above rooftop or balcony vegetation and at all heights in the case of fly-through conditions and parallel glass such as bridges and walkways.

Michael Mesure, FLAP’s co-founder and executive director, led the development and launch a few years ago of the BirdSafe Building Standards and risk-assessment guidelines for turnkey use by municipalities. According to Mesure, “Besides Toronto and Markham, no other Canadian cities have incorporated bird-friendly into their codes and/or standards, however FLAP is currently working with Ottawa, Vaughan, Halifax, Surrey and Saskatoon as they explore the potential for guidelines in their cities.” Vancouver and Calgary have already introduced voluntary guidelines for bird-friendly glazing. All U.S. federal government buildings and a number of U.S. cities have already legislated bird-friendly codes.

In order to make glass bird-friendly it is necessary to add visual markers, preferably on the outermost glass surface, that reduces or disrupts the reflectivity making it easy for birds to see, not mistake for open space, and avoid.

The Walker Glass Company has been developing bird-friendly glass options for several years now and markets them under the AviProtek brand name. The acid-etched surface treatments when spaced typically at two by four inches apart provide a test-proven feature that is easier for birds to see and steer clear of. They have also introduced ultraviolet reflecting glass that is visible to birds but much less so to people. Silk-screened ceramic frit patterns are also available in the marketplace. Bird-friendly options add 50 per cent or more to the cost of standard glazing.

According to Steve Morren, Walker’s director of architectural programs, “Although it is not a strict code requirement in many areas yet, we are seeing bird-friendly glazing being voluntarily specified in many public buildings such as government offices, universities, and hospitals across Canada and the U.S. Many large private property owners are feeling the social pressure to install bird-friendly glazing in their buildings as well.

Frank Fulton is president of Fultech Fenestration Consulting. He has been in the industry for 30 years and can be reached via email at fultech.fc@gmail.com.

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