The City of Markham has joined the growing flock of municipalities, including Toronto and Calgary, that are adopting bird-friendly building guidelines. The city is incorporating these measures, designed to prevent avian fatalities caused by buildings, into its site plan process. They apply only to new construction.
The guidelines, which became effective after passing council on Feb. 11, specify requirements for primary and secondary treatments that enable birds to detect windows.
Primary treatment options — to be applied to 85 per cent of contiguous glass with an area greater than two square metres, within 16 metres from finished grade — are integral/applied coverings that include dots, stripes and external netting, as well as frit and etched patterns.
Secondary treatment options — to be applied to the remaining 15 per cent of contiguous glass with an area greater than two square metres, within 16 metres from finished grade — are internal blinds and shades, louvers and external coverings, closely spaced mullions, tinting, angling, UV-patterned glass and landscape design.
Markham is expected to promote education and outreach to get owners and operators of existing buildings to consider retrofitting their facilities with bird-friendly features. A lights-out program is expected to also be introduced, as lights left on at night are another major cause of bird-window collisions.
Councillor Valerie Burke, who was instrumental in Markham’s adopting of the bird-friendly guidelines, explains that window collisions are thought to be the number-two cause of bird fatalities in Canada.
“As you look around the GTA and other areas, the number of buildings that are constructed with glass is really increasing, and any glass window is a potential threat,” she says.
The City of Markham, which is located in a major migratory path, began by setting its sights on its own facilities.
“We couldn’t go out and tell other developers and the corporate community, ‘You have to make sure that your buildings are bird safe,’ when we hadn’t done it, so that’s why the first step was to deal with our buildings,” Burke says.
Bird strikes were occurring at the atrium of the city’s facilities at 8100 Warden Ave., as the space created the illusion that birds could fly through it. After monitoring bird injuries and casualties at the site with help from the advocacy group FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program), the city retrofit the building, which the counclllors says made a significant improvement.
Next, the city retrofitted Markham Civic Centre, demonstrating a bird-friendly treatment to a space where developers go to submit their planning applications. Then the city integrated bird-friendly features into the design and construction of its new Cornell Community Centre and Library.
“We communicated to the architect about the bird-friendly guidelines, and it seemed like there was a bit of a miscommunication in certain areas,” Burke says. “And that’s when it became crystal clear: we have to have our guidelines in place because we need to refer to guidelines so that everybody fully understands what the expectations are.”
The Ontario Architects Association (OAA), which was solicited for its feedback on Markham’s initial draft of its bird-friendly guidelines, was supportive of the move. Markham incorporated the OAA’s recommendation that frit and etched patterns be included among treatment options.
“Architects are very concerned with the environment and the impact that our buildings have on the environment, and this is a great opportunity for us to support that by helping to prevent unnecessary injury to birds by colliding with our buildings,” says OAA president Bill Birdsell.
Michael Mesure, executive director of FLAP, is also pleased to see Markham adopt bird-friendly guidelines, saying that preventing bird collisions in urban centres requires a collective effort. Mississauga has made inquiries, Vancouver is exploring guidelines and Mesure anticipates that other municipalities will follow.
Markham’s guidelines build on Toronto’s pioneering efforts by tightening up the parameters to get closer to what research indicates works best, he says. It’s essential, though, that building owners and operators also address existing buildings, because that’s where the majority of bird-window collisions occur.
Mesure confirms that a 2013 court decision in which a judge ruled emitting reflected light that kills or injures birds is an offence under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act has spurred action on this front.
“It’s finally opened an industry where products and new technologies are emerging to address this issue that satisfy the demand of the industry,” Mesure says, “namely aesthetics and cost.”
Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.