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Green Building Not So Friendly To Birds

The soaring glass windows in Emory's Mathematics and Science Center reflect the woodsy view, confusing hapless birds who smash into it at full speed.

"The building killed 60 birds in the first year," said Wegner, Emory's chief environmental officer. "It was the wall of death."

Wegner, a professor in Emory's Department of Environmental Studies, began documenting the deaths shortly after the building opened in 2002. He found an average of two birds a day were losing their lives during the height of the migration season.

Magnolia warblers, Swainson's thrushes, ovenbirds —- no species was safe.

After getting the brush-off from the administration and architects, Wegner stuffed a couple of dead birds into his pockets and whipped them out during a meeting with his boss. Suddenly, he had an audience.

Now Emory drapes parts of the $40 million building with black mesh netting for about three months each fall, and migrating birds bounce off safely.

"It has saved hundreds of lives," he said.

Turns out, environmentally friendly buildings are often bird killers.

Ornithologist Daniel Klem, a professor at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania who has studied the problem for decades, said between 100 million and 1 billion birds die in the United States each year in collisions with glass.

Buildings that earn LEED certifications, the brass ring of environmentally sustainable construction, are often largely glass. Klem said few architects take their feathered friends into account. They are an unintended consequence of light-filled structures.

"I'm all for anything that helps the environment," he said, "but none of these buildings are ever green for me."

In recent years, some colleges and cities have taken steps to help birds steer clear.

At Klem's urging, Swarthmore College installed "fritted" window panes in a $71 million science building. Small dots make the glass look frosted so birds won't be confused.

And just this year, Toronto adopted new bird-friendly guidelines designed to save the lives of more than 10 million migratory birds, including building with nonreflective glass and redesigning ventilation grates and placing internal greenery away from windows.

But Klem said these are small steps for such a massive problem. Glass companies and the construction companies have to get involved, he said.

"We know what it takes to fix it," he said. "The question is how willing is the industry?"

Here are some tips from the audobon society to help reduce bird-window collisions.




Copyright 2008

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