Wednesday, February 4, 2009
The deadly dangers of glass to birds
February 3, 2009, 3:45 pm — Updated: 7:44 am -->
When Birds Collide, With Buildings
By Jennifer 8. Lee
Marilynn K. Yee/The New York TimesFor birds, the Javits Convention Center is one of the deadliest buildings in New York.
The three deadliest buildings in New York for bird collisions in New York City are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and Bellevue Hospital Center, according to the New York City Audubon Society, which keeps track of the deaths as part of Project Safe Flight in an online database.
“We collect thousands of dead birds every year, and we barely scratch the surface,” said Glenn Phillips, the society’s executive director.The Fish and Wildlife Service gave a grant to the Audubon Society to study bird collision mortality in New York City. The study, which will be released in March, examines landscape and architectural risk factors in bird deaths around the city as a model for other urban areas. Among the areas studied were the Met and the Javits Center.
“These are tragic areas that result in the death of countless areas of birds,” said Daniel Klem Jr., a ornithologist at Muhlenberg College who led the study.
Until 2007, the most lethal building by far used to be the Morgan Processing and Distribution Center, a United States Postal Service site that spans from West 28th to West 30th Street between Ninth and 10th Avenues. The building’s 440 decorative reflective panels on the south side mirrored the trees in Chelsea Park, fooling the birds into believing it was a welcoming hospitable habitat.
In one 10-week period in the fall, the Audubon Society recorded 338 dead birds around the center. And it was generally not just pigeons that bonked themselves (perhaps they are too savvy). Instead, it was dark-eyed juncos, white-throated sparrows and ruby-crowned kinglets.
An architect recommended that black vinyl be placed over each of the panels at the center, and now things are immeasurably improved.
It has not been as easy a problem to remedy with the Met, the Javits Center and Bellevue, because of a combination of aesthetics and technology. Mr. Phillips said they are in discussions with the buildings to reduce bird collision mortality.
But arguably, bird glass hazards in New York City are getting worse, not better. Glass is “in” because it is a common feature of green architecture, which means that more avian-unfriendly structures are popping up. They are particularly a hazard when they are near parks or other areas with foliage.
Or, as Mr. Phillips put it, “Glass and landscape together — bad.”
For example, the new diaphanous glass condominium building designed by Richard Meier in Brookyn’s Grand Army Plaza has raised the concern of the Audubon Society, as The New York Post noted this week.
“We’ve been planning on monitoring that building starting in the spring,” Mr. Phillips said.
In addition, the Apple Cube at the GM Building has raised concerns.
Dr. Klem estimated in a 1991 study that between 100 million and a billion birds die each year in glass collisions — that’s a huge spread, we’d like to point out — which would make the single greatest human-caused reason for bird deaths in the United States [pdf]. He said that his research since then shows that the one billion figure is conservative.
And it’s not only the architecturally tall buildings that cause problems. Rather, the most hazardous areas of all buildings are the ground level and bottom few stories — in part because those reflect the surrounding tree canopies. So birds can hit even short, squat buildings.
“The smallest piece of glass and the biggest piece of glass is an equal killer,” Dr. Klem said. “The birds behave like it’s invisible to them.”
There are some experimental solutions, none of them satisfactory from both an aesthetic and safety standpoint, from the Audubon Society point of view.
CollidEscape is a thin film that is applied to the exterior of windows — somewhat akin to those advertisements seen on buses and now in subways, only without the advertisements. Ornilux, which is made in Germany, is a glass designed to be more visible to birds, but its effectiveness is not clear.
There are other technological approaches. “The big question is, can ultraviolet light can be used? Because we can’t see it but they do,” said Dr. Klem, who added that he had been experimenting with ultraviolet light. A problem with the light, he explained, is that birds can view it as a force of attraction, like for mating and food.
“Danger is on the opposite of electromagnetic spectrum,” he said, in the reds and yellows.
New York City Audubon has just published a collection of bird-safe building guidelines, in a 55-page manual for architects and engineers.
“Honestly, the easiest solution would be for people not to build all-glass buildings,” Mr. Phillips said.
But people really like glass. In Lower Manhattan, 7 World Trade Center’s sometimes transparent-like appearance is beautiful, but that beauty is a hazard for birds. Likewise, 4 World Trade Center is also known for bird collisions.
A number of the architecturally striking buildings that are in the works, especially near the Hudson River, are also soaring and transparent.
Can City Room readers name other buildings in New York City that are not-so-bird friendly?
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