Yale Launches New Bird-Friendly Building Initiative

A blackpoll warbler killed by a window collision.

For billions of birds, windows are invisible killers. Scientists estimate that as many as one billion birds die by window collisions every year in the United States, making buildings one of the country’s leading causes of wild bird mortality. These bird deaths are preventable, advocates say. Decades of research has shown that bird-window collisions can be significantly reduced by incorporating bird-friendly design into buildings, lighting, and landscaping. Yet, despite its staggering scale and solvable nature, advocates note, the problem is not yet widely recognized or acted upon by policymakers or large institutions.

With the support of a seed grant from the Yale University Planetary Solutions Project, the Yale Bird-Friendly Building Initiative launched in May 2022. The new initiative aims to accelerate the adoption of bird-friendly design on Yale’s campus and beyond. The Initiative is co-led by the Law, Ethics & Animals at Yale Law School, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and the Yale Office of Sustainability. In 2022 and 2023, the Initiative will conduct two initial research projects in partnership with American Bird Conservancy.

The first research project focuses on creating a data-driven action plan for how the university can significantly reduce bird-window collisions on campus. The research team will take these steps:

  1. Collect data on bird-window collisions on Yale’s campus and in the city of New Haven through carcass surveys conducted during the migration seasons, citizen science reports, and historic data from the Peabody Museum’s ornithology collection;
  2. Identify buildings and specific facades that are killing high numbers of birds;
  3. Identify mitigation solutions for those buildings; and
  4. Propose updated and rigorous institutional design standards to prevent unnecessary bird deaths at new and remodeled buildings. These recommendations for institutional design standards will be published in an open-source format for use by other universities and institutions. Bird carcasses collected during the research will be added to the Yale Peabody Museum’s ornithology collection.

“The cumulative effects of window collisions for birds, and in turn for ecosystems and for humanity, are staggering.”
—Viveca Morris, executive director of the Law, Ethics & Animals Program

“We strive to ensure that Yale’s built environment supports biodiversity on campus and beyond,” said Ginger Chapman, director of the Yale Office of Sustainability. “This initiative promises to inform and enhance Facilities’ existing bird safe guidelines for new buildings and provide impactful strategies to address our existing buildings.” 

“One of the goals of this initiative is to salvage and preserve the avian victims of window collisions,” said Kristof Zyskowski, ornithologist and manager of bird and mammal collections at Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. “Specimens deposited in a museum collection become a part of permanent archive and an invaluable resource for a diversity of investigations by future users.”

The Initiative’s second project focuses on researching the effectiveness of existing bird-friendly building design policies in U.S., and developing new public policy strategies that could accelerate the development and adoption of bird-friendly design, technologies, practices, and materials at both new and existing buildings.

In recent decades, more than a dozen cities and towns across America, including New York City, have adopted bird-friendly design guidelines or requirements, typically by modifying building or zoning codes for certain types of new buildings. Legislation aimed at reducing bird mortality due to buildings has also been proposed at the state and federal levels. These efforts vary significantly in their structure, effectiveness, and reach. The resulting report will be published as a resource for the public, advocates, and policymakers.

a hummingbird killed by a building collison
A ruby-throated hummingbird killed by a building collison.

“Bird-window collisions are often overlooked or dismissed as insignificant or inevitable,” said Viveca Morris, executive director of the Law, Ethics & Animals Program at Yale Law School. “But they are neither. The cumulative effects of window collisions for birds, and in turn for ecosystems and for humanity, are staggering. We have the tools and knowledge to fix this problem, both at Yale and beyond. Our hope is that this initiative’s research will contribute to saving thousands of wild birds on our campus from unnecessary deaths, and to empowering other institutions and jurisdictions to do the same.”

“American Bird Conservancy is thrilled to be partnering with Yale on this initiative,” said Dr. Christine Sheppard, Director of Glass Collisions Program at American Bird Conservancy. “Universities are leaders in sustainability, and Yale in particular has the potential to make a huge contribution to bird conservation.”

Read more about the Yale Bird-Friendly Building Initiative on its website. Anyone who encounters a bird collision on Yale’s campus or elsewhere is encouraged to report it via iNaturalist and, if feasible, collect the carcass for deposition at Yale Peabody Museum.