Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Buildings Don't Have To Be Bird-Killers

Illustration by Cathryn Virginia.

The narrow stretch that separates Quay Tower from a thatch of bamboo and oaks in Brooklyn Bridge Park doesn’t look like much, especially in winter. Unless you’re a bird.

To a bird, the copper-colored building’s glass is a mirror, reflecting the thick grove of trees and suggesting that the wilderness continues across the road. To a bird, that can be a deadly mistake.

“You see that reflection? To a bird that looks like a tree, that is a tree, and they will go right for the tree,” says Catherine Quayle, social media director at the Wild Bird Fund.

The surprising uptake of birding as a pandemic hobby, along with social media and data collection tools like eBird and dBird, has created new visibility for bird collisions with glass, which kill as many as 1 billion birds in the U.S. per year. At the same time, a new generation of urban parks has given birds more places to roost in highly populated areas. But something else has followed these parks as well: real estate capital. The vogue for urban parks creates more economic impetus to build shiny buildings with big windows opposite those urban wetlands, glades and groves.

Architects have known how to prevent their buildings from becoming bird killers for more than a decade: Toronto was the first North American municipality to implement bird safety building guidelines back in 2010. New York City implemented some laws of its own in 2021. Patterned glass, exterior screens and turning the lights off at night can all significantly reduce bird deaths. But those standards clash with the big glass and big views that clients associate with big money.