Bird-friendly design

Minimizing dangers to birds through a building that integrates with its surroundings.

3 minutes

Gradient Canopy building surrounded by trees

Gradient Canopy building surrounded by trees. Photo: Iwan Baan for Google.

With Gradient Canopy, one goal was to develop the project site in a way that integrates with the landscape and makes it more resilient over time. To us, “resilient” means places that contribute to the long-term ecological health of the region, where both people and wildlife can thrive even as climate changes. At Gradient Canopy, we worked to reestablish historical ecosystem elements that provide critical support for wildlife. Yet, we understand there are hazards for wildlife in an urban environment, particularly for local birds like songbirds, sparrows, hummingbirds and warblers, which is why we designed Gradient Canopy with several bird-friendly strategies.

Glass on buildings can have a serious impact on bird populations, so it was important to design the building, landscape, and lighting at Gradient Canopy to align with the LEED Innovation in Design Credit: Bird Collision Deterrence to minimize bird collisions with the building.

To understand the best way to incorporate bird-safe design elements, we worked with ecological consultants H.T. Harvey & Associates to follow leading standards and recommendations for bird-safe buildings. Ultimately, we incorporated bird-friendly design in two key ways at Gradient Canopy: first by reducing reflectivity and transparency in the building’s glass, and secondly by reducing the building’s nighttime light pollution via interior and exterior lighting solutions

Glass is invisible to both birds and humans, but humans learn to see glass over time via visual cues like window frames and reflectivity. Birds, on the other hand, have little depth perception and often perceive reflections of landscape or sky as the real thing. Transparency in glass can also cause collisions if a bird can see vegetation through glass corners or plantings inside the building. Essentially, the more visible a building’s glass makes vegetation or sky, whether through transparency or reflectivity, the higher the incident of bird collisions.

At Gradient Canopy, our solution was first to source glass with a lower reflectivity index. Recent advancements in glass technology and production have made it easier to achieve a lower exterior reflectivity without compromising solar heat gain, which helped us source a better glass for the building’s many windows and façades. Including closely spaced visible markings on the glass, such as decals or embedded ceramic “frit,” can also dramatically reduce bird mortality because birds will perceive the markings as an obstacle and not attempt to fly through. We chose a dense pattern of markings following the American Bird Conservancy's most current guidance, aimed at providing more protection for even the smallest hummingbirds. At Gradient Canopy, we designed the frit on public-facing areas as a word puzzle, where the names of 30 different local bird species in 30 languages are printed together on the glass. It’s an “Easter egg” that adds an element of fun and discovery to a highly functional bird-safe design element.

Bird frit designed using 30 different local bird species in 30 languages.

Bird frit designed using 30 different local bird species in 30 languages. Photo: Iwan Baan for Google.

Finally, we designed the lighting at Gradient Canopy specifically to reduce bird collisions. At night, bright lighting can disorient birds and disrupt local habitat, and can be particularly detrimental to night-migrating bird populations. We reduced light pollution at Gradient Canopy by not uplighting the building or the surrounding vegetation, and shielding exterior fixtures so the light doesn’t spill out into habitat. We also installed window blinds that are closed at night, and put nighttime occupancy sensors on all interior lighting to ensure lights will only turn on if someone is using the space.

To ensure our bird-safe design elements at Gradient Canopy work as intended and that we can make adjustments as needed, we also established a three-year monitoring plan to track any bird collisions with the building and site structures via regular building perimeter walks and observation. All told, we hope incorporating bird-safe design will help our buildings better integrate with their surroundings, increasing the ability of wildlife and people to coexist in a healthy way.