Bird-Safe Building Policies Slowly Take Off Across the United States

November 30, 2023 by Giancarlo Vargas

Workers at the Field Museum in Chicago inspecting birds that were killed when they flew into the windows of the McCormick Place Lakeside Center. Credit: Lauren Nassef/Chicago Field Museum, via AP

Each year in the United States, hundreds of millions of birds die after colliding with glass structures they cannot see. In the absence of federal action, cities and states are taking the lead to adopt bird-friendly architecture and policies.

See the Tennessee Warbler. A stout frame. Green wings flecked with gold. A handsome cap of grey feathers.[1] It is a crisp October day here in Northern Illinois, and it is time he flies back south. Perhaps he’ll make his winter home in Honduras. Or maybe Ecuador.[2]




At full speed, he slams into a window at McCormick Place, Chicago’s premier convention center.[3] He does not survive impact. As he tumbles to the street, he can at least find solidarity, joining several hundred other thrushes, larks, and warblers who have crashed into McCormick today, now littering the sidewalks of the Windy City.[4]


Each year, up to 988 million birds in the United States meet a similar fate, colliding into windows and glass façades that are invisible to a bird’s eye.[5] To them, a clear glass pane might look like open air. A reflective building surface shows images of trees and shrubs – an inviting habitat.[6]


Luckily for our avian friends, awareness and concern over bird-building collisions has grown overtime,[7] and architects and engineers have identified building features that can reduce bird-building collisions by up to 90%.[8] For example, a UV pattern applied to window panes, although invisible to the human eye, can shatter a bird’s illusion that a window is a vast expanse of open air.[9] Similarly, arrays of tiny ceramic dots applied to glass panes can help birds see windows for the solid obstructions they are.[10]


States and cities are leading the adoption of bird-friendly construction solutions by renovating their building codes.[11] In 2020, New York City amended its code to require newly constructed or altered buildings to use materials that reduce bird strike fatalities.[12] In 2023, Washington, D.C. passed a similar bill but went further by extending subsidies to help offset the costs of implementing bird-friendly building requirements.[13] In a more restrained move, Maryland adopted legislation in 2023 requiring certain newly constructed or acquired state buildings to adopt “bird-friendly design recommendations[.]”[14]


Federal efforts to reduce bird-building collisions, on the other hand, have not taken flight so easily. Notably, Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL) has introduced a modest “Bird-Safe Building Act” in every legislative session since 2010, but so far has failed to clear both chambers of Congress.[15] Even if passed, the newest iteration of Quigley’s bill is relatively narrow, only applying to buildings constructed, acquired, or substantially renovated by the Federal Government,[16] currently estimated at ~1500 properties.[17]  The bill’s scope is further reduced by exempting the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the White House, and “any building or site listed, or eligible for listing, on the National Register of Historic Places” from its reach.[18] Despite these exceptions, a fraction of the federal government’s properties will likely be covered, a small but meaningful step to create federal bird-friendly architecture, should it ever land on the President’s desk.


Back in Chicago, the fight continues to reduce bird-building collisions through meaningful policy. In 2020, the City Council, responding to a coalition of bird-friendly design advocates, adopted an ordinance that awarded “points” – applicable to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development’s minimum point thresholds – to developers who adopt bird-safe design features in their projects.[19] Unfortunately, amidst a suite of other point-earning measures, like attaining LEED certification, adoption of bird-friendly designs remains limited in Chicago under the 2020 ordinance.[20] Thus, avian advocates in the Windy City continue to push their Council to adopt a more prescriptive ordinance like New York’s, [21] in the hopes that one-day migrating birds can pass by the nation’s largest convention center at a healthier distance as they make their way down south.

[1]See Cornell Univ., Tennessee Warbler Identification, All About Birds, (last visited Nov. 26, 2023).

[2]See Cornell Univ., Tennessee Warbler, All About Birds, (last visited Nov. 26, 2023).

[3] See McCormick Place, Choose Chicago, (last visited Nov. 26, 2023).

[4] See Aliya Uteuova, At Least 1,000 Birds Died from Colliding with One Chicago Building in One Day, The Guardian (Oct. 7, 2023),

[5] See Scott Loss et al., Bird-building Collisions in the United States: Estimates of Annual Mortality and Species Vulnerability, 116 The Condor 8, 16 (2014).

[6] See Carlyn Kranking, A Video Captures the Dreadful Toll Window Strikes Take on Migrating Birds, Nat’l Audobon Soc’y (Sept. 16, 2021),

[7] James Crugnale, There’s a Growing Political Push To Make More Buildings Bird-Safe, Nat’l Audobon Soc’y (Aug. 30, 2019),

[8] See John Gendall, How Architects Are Designing Buildings With Birds in Mind, Architectural Dig. (Feb. 27, 2019),

[9] See How to Design Bird-Safe Buildings, Buildings (May 6, 2022),

[10] Id.

[11] See How to Make NYC Work Better for Its Winged Inhabitants, The Economist (Oct. 26, 2023),

[12] See N.Y.C., Admin. Code tit. 28, ch. 14, § 1403.8 (2020) (“Bird friendly materials shall be required in accordance with Sections 1403.8.1 through 1403.8.4.”); see also id. §§ 1403.8.1 to 1403.8.4 (outlining requirements and exceptions to the Bird friendly materials ordinances).

[13] See Washington, D.C. Passes Bird-Friendly Building Act, Am. Bird Conservancy (Apr. 27, 2023),

[14] Md. Code Ann., State Finance and Procurement § 4-410.1 (LexisNexis 2023).

[15] Crugnale, supra note 7.

[16] Federal Bird Safe Buildings Act of 2023, H.R. 3781, 118th Cong. § 2 (2023).

[17] U.S. Gov’t Accountability Off., Federal Real Property Preliminary Results Show Federal Buildings Remain Underutilized Due to Longstanding Challenges and Increased Telework 4 (Jul. 13, 2023).

[18] Federal Bird Safe Buildings Act of 2023, supra note 16, at § 2.

[19] See Carl Giometti, Chicago’s Bird Friendly Design Ordinance: Where Things Stand, Chicago Ornithological Soc’y (Oct. 12, 2023),

[20] Id.

[21] Id.