Toronto's Bird-Friendly Development Guidelines Take Flight

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada, May 4, 2007 (ENS) - The city of Toronto Thursday published its new Bird-Friendly Development Guidelines, a set of practices designed to save some of the up to 10 million migratory birds that die each year in collisions with Toronto's buildings.

Urban night lighting attracts birds and poor weather traps them, which increases the density of migratory birds in urban areas. More migratory birds in the unfamiliar urban environment results in an increased number of bird collisions the following day.
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Some fortunate birds are rescued like this Northern waterthrush in hands of a volunteer from the Fatal Light Awareness Program, FLAP. The organization helped design the new guidelines. (Photo courtesy FLAP)
As well as ways to reduce light pollution, the new guidelines recommend design-based development strategies, such as non-reflective glass, incorporating visual markers in the first 12 meters above grade, muting reflections, redesigning ventilation grates and placing internal greenery away from windows.

Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone said, "The final product is a very attractive and informative document that will greatly assist in mitigating the dangers the urban environment poses to migrating birds."

For thousands of years, birds have been migrating through the region where Toronto now stands, a city of 2.5 million people on the shore of Lake Ontario.

"The dangers posed to migratory birds by today's urban landscapes are relatively new in evolutionary time scales and birds have been unable to alter their instinctive behavior in response to this recent product of human activity," the guidelines say.

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Humans can tell the difference between the real trees and the reflected ones, but birds cannot. (Photo courtesy FLAP)
During their spring and fall migrations, the birds become confused by the combination of light pollution and the effects of glass in the urban environment and many collide with buildings.

Architect John Robert Carley, who helped write the guidelines, believes, "Our cities are massive obstacles to migrating birds. The implementation of the Bird-Friendly Development Guidelines starts a process to make that migration journey less perilous. Toronto leads the way, and sets a strong precedent for other North American cities to follow."

Bird populations are dwindling fast in both North and South America and cannot evolve quickly enough to adjust to massive urbanization, and deforestation they now confront.

Instead, the guidelines say, "Cities are the key places that the changes in human behavior necessary for bird conservation can occur."

Bird collisions happen for several reasons. Daytime strikes occur because birds cannot perceive images reflected in glass as reflections, and so will fly into windows that they think are trees or sky.

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Bird-friendly patterned glass (Photo by Kelly Snow courtesy City of Toronto)
Birds do not perceive clear glass as a solid object. They will strike clear glass while attempting to reach habitat and sky seen through corridors, windows positioned opposite each other in a room, ground floor lobbies, glass balconies or where glass walls meet at corners. The impact of striking a reflective or clear window in full flight often results in death.

Many species fall to the pavement, including cedar waxwings, eastern bluebirds, northern flickers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, dark-eyed juncos, red-winged blackbirds, at least three types of warblers, white-throated sparrows, American robins, and peregrine falcons.

Migratory birds often travel at night. A combination of light from the moon and stars and geomagnetic signals from the Earth provide natural cues for direction. Light pollution from urban areas obscures the light from the moon and stars.

Red lights, commonly used on towers and other tall structures, may interfere with birdsí ability to track geomagnetic cues.

The light emitted from urban areas disorients migrating birds and draws them into brightly lit downtown areas. Disoriented birds will often fly around until exhausted and drop to the ground or they may strike a building or window and fall to the pavement.

If they survive the fall, they must contend with predators such as gulls. If not eaten, they are trapped within the unfamiliar built environment. At this point they frequently injure themselves while trying to seek shelter by flying into the glass surfaces of brightly lit ground level lobbies decorated with large trees and or plants.

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Toronto's bright lights disorient many birds and they lose their way. (Photo by by Vince Pietropaolo courtesy City of Toronto)
At night during rainy, overcast or foggy conditions, the numbers of disoriented birds colliding with buildings are at their highest as the natural cues birds use to migrate are further obscured.

The city of Toronto has worked in partnership with the private sector, bird advocacy organizations and other levels of government to develop the guidelines.

Toronto Hydro Corporation, the electric utility that supplies power to the city, is a supporter of the city's efforts to protect migrating birds.

"There are multiple winners when you turn off unnecessary lights - your wallet, the Toronto Hydro electricity system and our fine feathered friends," said Joyce McLean, director of strategic issues, Toronto Hydro Corporation.

The Bird-Friendly Development Guidelines are part of Toronto's Green Development Standard, which encourages sustainable site development to a standard that will increase energy efficiency, improve water quality, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce waste and protect the urban forest and wildlife habitat.

A bird-friendly building is considered a component of a green development.

In addition to developing the Bird-Friendly Development Guidelines, the City of Toronto launched Lights Out Toronto!, a public awareness campaign aimed at drawing attention to this issue and to ways that individuals, businesses, property owners and managers can help reduce migratory bird deaths. This annual campaign will coincide with the spring migratory season mid-March to early June, and the fall migratory season mid-August to early November.

The city government is also participating in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured migratory birds. In city owned buildings, a lights-out policy for after work hours and on weekends has been in place since 2005.

The city is asking all residents of Toronto to help in reducing migratory bird deaths - architects, developers, urban designers, planners, building owners, managers and tenants can make a positive difference helping to ensure the survival of migratory bird populations for future generations.