Use of glass on public buildings in the US could be curtailed unless the glass contains features to improve safety for birds under proposed legislation which passed the US House of Representatives earlier this month.

Introduced in March 2019, the Bird-Safe Building Act of 2019 was passed by the House on July 1 and must now go before the Senate.

Should it become law, the Bill will amend title 40 in the United States Code in order to require the Administrator of General Services to incorporate bird-safe building materials and design features into public buildings,

Under the proposed legislation, in the case of new public buildings or public buildings which are substantially altered:

  • Glass materials will not be allowed to comprise any more than 10 percent of the exposed façade material from ground level to 40 feet or any more than 40 percent of the exposed façade material above 40 feet unless the material employs some or all of a combination of methods described in the bill.
  • Methods referred to above include elements that preclude bird collisions without obscuring vision (secondary facades, netting, screens, shutters, and exterior shades); Ultraviolet (UV) patterned glass that contains UV-reflective or contrasting patterns that are visible to birds; patterns on glass designed in accordance with a rule that restricts horizontal spaces to less than 2 inches high and vertical spaces to less than 4 inches wide; or opaque, etched, stained, frosted, or translucent glass.
  • Transparent passageways or corners will not be allowed.
  • Any glass which is adjacent to atria or courtyards containing water features, plants, and other materials attractive to birds will need to have one or more features referred to in the second point above.
  • Subject to security and other mission related requirements, outside lighting must be appropriately shielded and minimised.

For existing public buildings, the new Bill will require the Administrator to ensure that bird mortality rates are monitored and to reduce exterior building and site lighting for each public building (subject to security and other requirements).

In doing this, it says the Administrator should use automatic control technologies including timers, photo-sensors and infrared and motion detectors.

The Bill applies to all public buildings except for heritage buildings, the White House, the Supreme Court and the United States Capitol.

The requirements do not apply, however, where the measures outlined above would result in significant additional cost to the construction or renovation.

The passing of the Bill in the House comes amid growing momentum in North America to make buildings safer for birds.

New York has mandated requirements for safe glass structures within its building code whilst other cities such as Toronto have introduced guidelines to make buildings more friendly to birds.

Last year, a study by the Cornell Lad of Ornithology found that around 600 million birds – mostly migratory birds, die from building collisions each year throughout the US.

Birds are attracted to the reflective facades of buildings.

The Bill must now go before the Senate and will need to be signed by the President before it is passed into law.