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The House of Representatives passes bipartisan Bird-Safe Buildings Act

Truly for the Birds

The House of Representatives passes bipartisan Bird-Safe Buildings Act

The Spertus Institute in Chicago features a bird-friendly all-glass facade with a ceramic frit pattern (Daniel X. O'Neil /Flickr}

Earlier this week, members of the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act. Among items dealing with infrastructural fixes, affordable housing, climate resiliency, and much more, the sweeping and progressive $1.5 trillion bill included H.R. 919, better known as the Bird-Safe Buildings Act.

An enduring passion project of Illinois Democrat Mike Quigley, a longtime Sierra Club member and outspoken avian ally who represents the state’s fifth congressional district, the bipartisan bill mandates that all public buildings managed by the General Services Administrations (GSA)—either newly constructed or acquired or possessing a facade slated for substantial renovation—be designed or altered in a bird-friendly manner and/or with bird-safe materials to help reduce avian fatalities. There are several exemptions outlined in the bill, including buildings and sites listed on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, the White House and its grounds, the Supreme Court building and its grounds, and the campus of the U.S. Capitol.

A summary of the bill, which was first introduced to the House in January 2019 with backing from various organizations and major architectural firms including FXCollaborative, requires:

  • At least 90 percent of the exposed facade material from ground level to 40 feet shall not be composed of glass or shall be composed of glass that employs a combination of bird-safe modifications.
  • At least 60 percent of the exposed facade material above 40 feet shall meet a modified glass standard.
  • There shall not be any transparent passageways or corners.
  • All glass adjacent to atria or courtyards containing water features, plants, and other materials attractive to birds shall meet the standard.
  • Outside lighting shall be appropriately shielded and minimized, though not at the expense of security and other mission-related requirements.

Furthermore, the bill stipulates that the GSA must ensure the continual monitoring of bird mortality at public buildings in addition to reducing exterior building and site lighting “where practicable and consistent with the requirements for outside lighting.”

Per a news release announcing the bill’s passage published by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), as many as 1 billion birds die annually after colliding with public and private buildings in the United States. Chicago, home of Congressman Quigley, is thought to have the most deadly built environment for birds.

“In a time when wildlife faces unprecedented, human-driven challenges, we have an obligation to be responsible members of our environment and do what we can to mitigate our impacts on those we share this planet with,” Congressman Quigley told the ABC. “That can start with protecting wildlife from deadly collisions with our buildings.”

Although numerous bird-friendly building ordinances have been passed and implemented at state, county, and local levels, H.R. 919 promises to be a “game-changer” per Dr. Christine Sheppard, director of ABC’s Glass Collisions Program. “The recognition of this issue at the federal level is a momentous achievement because if passed by the Senate and put into law, it will set an example for the entire U.S.A,” Dr. Sheppard said in a statement.

As the ABC points out, many federal buildings already employ bird-friendly design tactics, including the minimal use of glass on lower floors, albeit primarily for other reasons, like interior climate control and security.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R.3742), a landmark wildlife conservation bill, was also passed by Congress as part of H.R. 2.

The bill now moves on to the Senate, which is unlikely to pass it.