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Designing For Wildlife: Green Construction Not Just For The Birds

Solar power, green roofs, water-saving appliances—by now, these are terms we all know, whether we specialize in environmentally friendly building design or not. "Going green" has been gaining traction year over year, from architects to legislators and everyone in between. And most recently, wildlife-safe design has begun receiving more attention than ever before, bringing animal safety in to share the spotlight.

Wildlife-Safe Building Solutions

As designers, it's hard not to love a good, sweeping panoramic view in your blueprints. They bring in natural light, decrease energy costs and make interior spaces feel bigger. But as it turns out, these gorgeous glass design elements can be deadly to wildlife.

Bird-Safe Solutions

According to researchers, hundreds of millions of birds are killed or injured from window collisions annually. Clear glass appears translucent to birds, causing them to fly right into it, while mirrored glass reflects the sky or surrounding trees.

A few cities around the continent—including Minneapolis, San Francisco, Oakland and Toronto—have already passed ordinances to ensure bird safety, and a LEED pilot program for bird collision deterrence is offered for buildings that are targeting LEED certification.

Today, architects have several solutions available to meet new requirements to protect wildlife.

Etched Glass

etched glass with dotsEtched glass features permanent designs that are visible by both birds and humans. In this case, simple squares or dots patterned across glass are aesthetically intriguing without being too intrusive.

With etched marks placed no more than two inches high and four inches wide, birds will instinctively avoid these glass windows and will not attempt to pass through the markings.

Alternatively, horizontal or vertical lines etched into glass windows are clean and simple, and when placed no more than two inches apart (for horizontal lines) or four inches apart (for vertical lines), will prevent birds from attempting to fly between the lines.


ceramic bars protecting new york timesPlacing a facade around a building, such as a metal mesh screen, adds visual interest, protects the glass behind it, keeps birds safe and still allows those inside to enjoy the view.

The New York Times building is an excellent example. Lining the front of building, ceramic bars create a facade that birds can see and avoid. Building occupants, meanwhile, can easily see outside of the building with little visual distraction.

Louvers and Windows

louvers and windows

This design allows for light to be managed through a series of wooden louvers. Because of their thin shape, birds will avoid trying to fly into them. Meanwhile, the louvers are complemented by a series of narrow windows that work together to bring in plenty of light, while window panes enable birds to recognize the glass.

Ultraviolet Glass

ultraviolet glass window compared to normal window

While etched and fritted glass present a visual design that birds can see and avoid, there's another option. UV glass is almost completely transparent to the human eye, yet birds—most of which are able to view UV designs—see a cross-hatched pattern all over the windows.

Turtle-Safe Solutions

tinted-glass-windows-to-protect-wildlife.jpgIn the Southeastern U.S., light pollution—often originating from inside homes and businesses—has become a serious threat to newly hatched sea turtles. Once they leave their nest far up on the beach, hatchlings navigate toward the ocean surf by following the moonlight. Unfortunately, nearby light pollution disorients them and leads them straight into danger.

Sea turtle protection ordinances limit the amount of light that indoor and outdoor areas can give off. They're common along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and are enforced during turtle nesting season (typically March through October on the Atlantic coast, and May through October on the Gulf coast).

In these areas, new buildings built within sight of the beach are required to restrict light transmittance to .45 or less. A common solution is to have all windows outfitted with a laminated glass solution that features a tinted grey interlayer. These tinted windows don't disorient the new hatchlings and prevent them from reaching the ocean.

Know Your Regulations

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA) should always be considered as you undertake new projects. Both acts are federally mandated and support environmental safety while paying specific attention to wildlife protection.

Endangered Species Act - Passed in 1973 to protect the extinction of animals and plants that exist in extremely low numbers, this act prevents builders and landowners from significantly modifying land that is inhabited by an endangered species, or prevents plants or animals from breeding, feeding or finding shelter. Always research new project locations, paying attention to local plant and animal life, to determine if this regulation will apply to you.

Clean Water Act - Passed in 1948 and updated in 1972, this act aims to make all water sources safe for fishing and swimming. As it relates to building code, developers are required to ensure that stormwater runoff reaches an appropriate drainage and/or sewage solution, ensuring the safety of local water sources for fish and aquatic inhabitants.

Local Codes Near You

Although there is currently a Federal bird-safe bill proposed in House legislation, as of now, all wildlife-specific building codes are governed locally. Check your list of currently active regional bird- and turtle-safe building codes to see if there are any regulations in your area.

You can stay in line with building codes and protect local wildlife without compromising beautiful aesthetics. Learn more about building codes, green construction and innovating products in our free resource library.

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