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New LEED Credit Encourages Bird-Friendly Designs

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The U.S. Green Building Council is pioneering the use of a bird safety credit to its LEED certification to encourage architects to use more bird-friendly designs.
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The U.S. Green Building Council is pioneering the use of a bird safety credit to its LEED certification to encourage architects to use more bird-friendly designs.

Some avian activists hope a new certification credit from the U.S. Green Building Council will encourage local architects to construct buildings with birds in mind.

"We’re losing a billion birds per year. At a certain point they’re not going to be able to persist," says Christine Sheppard, who studies collisions for the American Bird Conservancy. "Birds don’t see glass. People don’t see glass either. You understand glass is there from context. Birds don’t understand the cues that tell us that glass is there."

But Sheppard says some simple strategies can make buildings safer for birds: "Turning lights out is really fundamental, because light attracts birds," she says.

She also suggests installing screens, stickers, shutters, shades, even netting to protect birds from glass.

"A lot of times I think architects imagine that in order to be bird friendly it has to be a windowless warehouse," she says. "There are fantastic buildings that are bird-friendly."

Union Station, with its grand stone archways, is one of those buildings. "This colonnade here is open space for people to walk through. And any glass on the side of the building isn’t going to be very visible to birds," she says.

The bird-safety message seems to be taking off. This fall, the U.S. Green Building Council added a pilot bird-safety credit to its prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design -- or LEED -- certification.

"We’re encouraging teams to think about the glass they’re using. If they’re going to use floor to ceiling glass, what can they do to make the glass they’re using more visible to birds," says Brendan Owens, vice president for LEED technical development. He says the council is also encouraging teams to think about the orientation of facades and their relationship to birds' migratory pattes.

Sheppard says entire ecosystems are at stake.

"There are many habitats that wouldn't exisit if birds didn't take seeds and berries and drop them somewhere as fertilizers," she says.

Sure, it's for the birds. But Sheppard says it's really for all of us.

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