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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

San Francisco to Protect Birds from Flying into Buildings

Posted By on Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 1:40 PM

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Unless you're part of a small cadre of environmental activists, the danger posed to birds by high-rise buildings is probably not an issue in the forefront of your mind. Unless, of course, you are a member of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, which just saw fit to pass a new set of development regulations intended to make our avian neighbors' flight paths through downtown a little less life-threatening.

Now, don't snicker, folks: Studies indicate that this is, in fact, a problem. As the new policy drafted by the city's Planning Department states, "Over 30 years of research has documented that buildings and windows are the top killer of wild birds in North America ... Structure collision fatalities may account for between 100 million and 1 billion birds killed annually." That wide range might seem like a wildly speculative statistic, but do you, San Franciscan, want the blood of those birds on your hands?

The perils faced by birds within city limits come down to glass and light, according to the city's new standards. Reflective or transparent glass on high-rises can invite birds to fly straight into windows. At night, migrating birds can be distracted off-course by bright lights. Coit Tower, for instance, so pleasing to the eye when lit up at night, is described in the city standards as having a pernicious "beacon effect" "that draws birds like a moth to a flame."

The standards require that many new buildings minimize or shield their lights at night, and use methods for obfuscating their glass -- such as "fritting," or a pattern of small dots -- so that birds are warned off.

The legislation, which was signed into law by Mayor Ed Lee, is already garnering praise from the likes of the American Bird Conservatory and Golden Gate Audubon Society. Supervisor Eric Mar -- who is of national repute for some of his other eccentric regulatory quests -- was its sponsor.

"Protecting and helping birds is not only the right thing to do, it is also good for the economy and the future of our environment," Mar said in a statement. "Birds are invaluable as controllers of crop insect pests, pollinators of plants, and seed distributors; they also generate tremendous economic revenues through the pastimes of bird feeding and birdwatching. We need to do what we can to protect them."

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Peter Jamison

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