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Bird-safe building bill introduced in Anne Arundel County aims to reduce window collisions

Warning – if you’re saddened by dead bird photos, skip this article

A bird-safe building bill has been introduced by Anne Arundel Councilwoman Lisa Rodvien – if passed, it would make Anne Arundel County the second county in Maryland, after Howard, taking action to reduce window collisions, a problem that kills and/or injures a lot of birds.

According to the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) website, “Each year up to 1 billion birds die after hitting glass surfaces in the United States.”

A 2014 study done by Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Migratory Birds found, “Building collisions, and particularly collisions with windows, are a major anthropogenic threat to birds, with rough estimates of between 100 million and 1 billion birds killed annually in the United States. However, no current U.S.
estimates are based on systematic analysis of multiple data sources. We reviewed the published literature and acquired unpublished datasets to systematically quantify bird–building collision mortality and species-specific vulnerability. Based on 23 studies, we estimate that between 365 and 988 million birds (median ¼ 599 million) are killed annually by building collisions in the U.S., with roughly 56% of mortality at low-rises, 44% at residences, and ,1% at high-rises. Based on .92,000 fatality records, and after controlling for population abundance and range overlap with study sites, we identified several species that are disproportionately vulnerable to collisions at all building types.”

Other places in United States and beyond have passed similar, bird-safe building laws including San Francisco, Toronto and New York City.

Rodvien’s bill incorporates a threat factor rating system developed by ABC and a team of architects.

Birds only see the reflection on windows, not the glass itself – they fly into glass thinking there’s nothing between them and the trees, bushes or sky.

Shortly after the bill was introduced in Anne Arundel County, Cheryl Thomas found a golden-crowned kinglet at the base of a commercial official building at 888 Bestgate Road in Annapolis – a building with a lot of reflective glass.

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Thomas

Twitter user @JennDeLMck also saw a window collision victim recently at 888 Bestgate. She Tweeted, “I saw a dead bird there the other morning that had obviously struck the window. It was a migrating warbler :(”

Nancy Tait emailed, “For years I was part of a group that worked out around sunrise at Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s beach off Herndon in Annapolis. This gorgeous warbler was the first black throated blue warbler I’d ever seen – victim of a window strike at their glassed Bay-view building. Pic is not great but I was in the midst of a workout when I saw it!”

Photo courtesy of Nancy Tait

According to Tait, “The black throated blue warbler was seen on May 2, 2015. We saw other birds over time there: a ruby throated hummingbird, a Carolina chickadee, and at least two or three others. We were there 3-4 times a week for about 8 years.”

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Annapolis headquarters building, located on the Severn River in Annapolis, is called the Philip Merrill Environmental Center – it opened in 2001 with a lot of eco-friendly design elements, but bird collisions still happened.

The building has since been outfitted with additional protection to guard against bird collisions.

“We don’t get bird strikes at the Merrill Center,” explained from Willy Agee, CBF’s vice president of administration “We put silhouettes on the windows years ago. It’s not a problem here.”

Window collisions aren’t just an issue for songbirds.

In March 2020, a red-shouldered hawk was injured after colliding with a window at an office building on Somerville Road in Annapolis. Owl Moon Raptor Center Volunteer Nancy McDonald rescued the bird.

In July of this year, a Cooper’s hawk died after a colliding with a window at Severna Park High School – the school opened in 2017, replacing an older school. The new design features a lot of glass at the school’s entrance, where the hawk was found.

Photo courtesy of Katrina Williams

While Rodvien’s bill addresses new construction of non-residential buildings, there are preventive measures that can be incorporated on all buildings, including bird-safe glass, film/decals/tape and other options.

In 2018, the Annapolis headquarters of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources was outfitted with Acopian BirdSavers – paracord at the recommended guidelines to reduce the number of birds from flying into windows. Bird collisions had been an ongoing issue at DNR for years before the install.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Department of Natural Resources

A program of the National Audubon Society called Lights Out, which has a nationwide network, including in Baltimore, is focused on preventing bird collisions with buildings.

According to the Light’s Out Baltimore Facebook page, “Our goal is to make Charm City safe for migratory birds by turning out decorative lighting in the city during peak migration seasons, between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and to advocate for bird-safe building design that makes glass and windows visible to birds. A core group of volunteers walk downtown Baltimore during fall and spring migration to rescue injured birds from window collisions and collect dead birds. Injured ones are taken to Phoenix Wildlife Center and dead ones are taken to the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. Lights Out Baltimore strives to advocate for bird-friendly building design, making glass bird-friendly, and educating the public about bird collisions.”

The windows at the Patuxent Research Refuge visitor’s center in Laurel were outfitted with perforated film that appears completely transparent when looking out the windows. The project was done by Lights Out Baltimore, with support from the Baltimore Bird Club, Friends of Patuxent Research Refuge and Patuxent Research Refuge.

Photos courtesy of Lynne Parks/Lights Out Baltimore

Lights Out Baltimore will be starting an install at Arlington Echo, Anne Arundel County Public Schools outdoor education center, in late November.

A public hearing for the bird-safe building bill will be held November 15 at 7 pm at the Arundel Center’s County Council Chambers, 44 Calvert Street, Annapolis. Testimony from the public begins at 6:30 pm.

For those interested in providing testimony (in person or online), sign up in advance here – https://www.aacounty.org/services-and-programs/county-council-meeting-participation?fbclid=IwAR31QuMbzweucZTj7T5z7xVOqCHVJqa4ky3zvTQF08dDtBFVCTCqoHfYUSI

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Update (November 17, 2021) – the bird-safe building bill was defeated at the Anne Arundel County Council meeting on November 15. Councilwoman Rodvien (the sponsor of the bill) and Councilwoman Lacey voted for it, the rest of the council voted against it.

Update (November 5, 2021) – Councilwoman Rodvien replied to request for statement. She wrote, “

I learned about this issue from a fellow legislator and friend, Deb Jung, who serves on the Howard County Council. She introduced – and with her colleagues passed – legislation to require builders to use materials and designs that deter birds from flying into windows and buildings.  As you may know, a 2017 study indicated that the bird population in North America dropped from roughly 10 billion birds in 1970 to about 7 billion birds in 2017. This represents a roughly 30% decline in our nation’s bird population and is a staggering loss.  That raises the questions: why should we care?  and what can we do? I’ll start with the first question: besides the fact that birds reflect an enormously diverse slice of the animal kingdom, are beautiful to see and hear, and simply amazing creatures, birds play an important role in our ecosystem.   They play an important role in our ecosystems by keeping insect populations in check.  This is good for farmers who fight insects/pests as well as anyone who enjoys outdoor activities. Birds also serve as pollinators, help disperse seeds, and participate in scavenging carcasses.  They can also serve as a food source for humans and other animals.

So what does this have to do with my legislation?  As many as one billion birds die every year from window strikes.  As many as 500 million more are injured.  Changes in designs and materials can stop bird collisions altogether.  Many of these changes are free or extremely low cost.  Asking builders to make small, low-cost or no-cost changes can make an enormous difference in the number of birds in our ecosystem.  Furthermore, those same changes often dramatically increase energy efficiency, affording big savings in heating and cooling costs.  This is common sense legislation that is good for our ecosystem, our environment, and our pocketbooks.”

Donna L. Cole is an award-winning investigative and multimedia reporter. In her spare time, she’s a volunteer bird of prey rescuer.