Evanston is officially for the birds!

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Sept. 12 marked a milestone for birds in Evanston, particularly benefitting those that migrate through the city. City Council unanimously passed an ordinance amending Title 4 of the City Code, “Building Regulations,” by adding Chapter 24 – Bird Friendly Building Design.

Credit: Mike Roche

Evanston’s downtown has glass buildings, both residential and commercial. Northwestern has glass buildings. In both locations, residents and volunteers with Chicago Bird Collision Monitors collect dead birds near buildings that were designed without attention to bird safety.

This Ordinance will mean that new developments will be designed to foster safe passage for birds in Evanston. Working with developers, Bird-friendly Evanston (BFE) has learned that they would like to have standards upfront to guide them.

Some background

When the Searle building was constructed on Northwestern’s north campus in 1972, birds began hitting its reflective windows. There was a great deal of concern among birders, but no action. Back then, there was no research showing how glass could be made to be safe for birds.

From 2019, artist and bird rescue volunteer Peggy Macnamara removes a dead warbler from one of the Searle buildings.

Fast forward some 30 years. Well before 2004, Daniel Klem’s dissertation at Southern Illinois University had illuminated the problem and suggested solutions. If trees and shrubs are reflected in glass, birds see a place to rest and find food and shelter; they don’t see the glass.

But if glass is patterned with small spaces between patches, or continuous dots, birds see it and veer away from it. And people can still see out of the glass. It’s a win-win situation.

For years people had been pasting silhouettes of individual Falcons on windows, to no effect. Klem’s research showed why. The accepted pattern on glass today is the “2×4” rule, where lines or dots or other markers are separated by 2 inches if they are applied to glass horizontally, or 4 inches if applied in vertical columns. The pattern must cover the entire window.

Other problems with building design became clear. Glass railings had become all the architectural rage, but birds flew right into them. See-through corners on buildings invite birds to fly through them, only to hit the glass barrier.

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