Bird-Safe Cities

Reducing urban hazards for birds

Varied Thrush / Debra Regula / Great Backyard Bird Count

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Seattle Audubon was proud to introduce Bird-safe Cities in 2020, an ambitious new initiative that aims to reduce urban hazards to birds. 

The Problem

Glass is one of the worst human-related causes of bird mortality, killing up to one billion birds per year in the United States (Loss et al. 2014). Over half of bird-window collisions occur at buildings four stories or lower and in relatively undeveloped places surrounded by habitat (Hager et al. 2017). More than 75% of Seattle’s land area is zoned for buildings four stories or lower  (City of Seattle GIS Program 2019) and these areas, particularly land zoned as “Single Family Residential,” tend to support high tree canopy cover in Seattle (O’Neil-Dunn 2016). Tall trees in yards and other complex vegetation near a building may increase the likelihood of bird-window collisions (Kummer et al. 2016).

Large portions of our city may be ecological traps for some birds—places that attract birds but that may ultimately impact their survival or reproductive success.

We have only a limited understanding of the specific impacts of Seattle’s built environment on our resident and migratory birds. However, data from our friends at Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) suggest that collisions occur across the region and affect a wide range of species. Over the last 10 years, PAWS admitted over 1,100 birds for collision-related injuries from 84 bird species. It is important to note that these cases likely represent just a small fraction of the total number of collision victims; many are undetected and unreported. Some species show up at the hospital more often than others—just 10 species account for over half of the collision patients, and members of the Thrush family represent nearly a quarter. Some of the species that seem to be more susceptible to window collisions have already experienced steep population declines  (North American Bird Conservation Initiative 2016) and/or are at elevated risk of extinction due to climate change (Bateman et al. 2019). If we are to keep common birds common and prevent rare birds from going extinct, we must address hazards in the built environment.

bird chart

Top ten species account for 50% of total bird-building collision patients from the Puget Sound Region, as reported by PAWS.

Graphic by Judy Bowes.

The Plan

We believe that by improving and communicating our local understanding of bird-window collisions, we can inspire individuals and city governments to reduce hazards to birds. 

Bird-Safe Cities
Reducing urban hazards for birds

Improve Understanding
Inspire Individual Action
  • Bird-safe residential homes
  • Bird-safe building designs and materials
  • Collision deterrent art
Influence City-Wide Policy
  • Coalition of organizational partners
  • Advocacy for bird-safe building standards

Improve Understanding

d-Bird to report mortality

In partnership with New York City Audubon, Seattle Audubon developed and launched d-Bird in the spring of 2021, an online tool to report dead or injured birds anywhere in North America. The data collected from d-Bird will help contextualize and guide more scientifically rigorous research efforts, which are in development at Seattle Audubon as part of Bird-Safe Cities.

Collision monitoring of bird-window strikes on buildings

In consultation with two national collision monitoring experts, Judy Bowes and Heidi Trudell, Seattle Audubon has developed a collision monitoring program, piloting in September 2021, to provide more robust insights on the issue at a local level. We aim to answer questions like “How many birds are dying from window collisions in our area?”, “What building features are contributing to window strikes?”, and “What types of window treatments are effective?”. Visit our Collision Monitoring page to become a building monitor volunteer, see the sites being monitored, and learn more about this local project contributing valuable scientific data and informing .

Story collection

We are actively collecting people’s stories and experiences with window collisions. These stories will help us contextualize and communicate the emotional side of bird-window collisions experienced by people.

In the coming year we plan to partner with social scientists at the University of Washington and U.S. Geologic Survey to conduct a survey about attitudes, behaviors and beliefs regarding bird-window collisions.

bird imprint on window

Imprint of bird on window | 22Kay22, Getty Images

Inspire Individual Action

Bird-safe your home

Enabling bird-lovers, and people who feed birds to bird-safe their homes is an important way to engage our community. In addition to keeping cats indoors, we are working to provide individuals with easy and effective solutions to reduce pesticide use, and prevent bird-glass collisions at home.

Birds & Glass Don’t Mix was a free event offered by Seattle Audubon in the fall of 2020, so our community could learn more about this issue. Watch the recording.

Different methods to treat windows with collision deterrent

Collision deterrent art installation

In June 2021, The Seattle Audubon Naure Shop windows got a new look. Thanks to the talents of a local artist, muralist, and activist, Angelina Villalobos, the windows were treated with a collision deterrant decal. This is one way to demostrate to our community that there are effective, and attractive solutions out there to prevent a bird-window collision. We are raising awareness through her artwork, and hope others will see The Nature Shop windows as a model that bird-friendly can still be beautiful, and inspire other businesses and residents to be creative in how they choose to treat their windows.

 Bird-safe building practices

Our goal is to motivate architects and developers to use bird-safe building designs and materials. We plan to develop a training and educational materials on how to incorporate such practices and materials into designs. We will also be advertising this through industry channels and publications.

We have begun outreach to Community Roots Housing and sustainable building consultants. We are also beginning to research design review guidelines.

Tutorials on treating your windows

Artist Angelina Villalobos stands next to the custom art she designed at Seattle Audubon's Nature Shop. The art depicts a Varied Thrush. The art was transferred to a vinyl window application, making the window visible to birds.

Angelina Villalobos, creator of collision deterrent art decal, standing at The Nature Shop 

Influence City-Wide Policy

Coalition of partners

Seattle Audubon is not in this work alone. We are proud to share our vision of a more bird-friendly region with the Seattle Bird Conservation Partnership, a collective of government and nonprofit partners working toward a Seattle that works for both people and birds. With our diverse perspectives on the issue, and collective knowledge and expertise, we are developing multi-faceted strategies to reduce urban hazards to birds.

Advocacy for city-wide policy

We are invested in driving grassroots advocacy efforts that urge city leaders to adopt bird-safe building standards. In 2021, over 300 Seattle Audubon supporters wrote their U.S. Legislators, advocating for the federal Bird-safe Buildings Act of 2021. Join Seattle Audubon’s Seattle Conservation Action Network (SCAN) to receive notifications so you can make your voice heard on this issue, and others like it. 

A building in Seattle with a mirrored exterior show the reflection of trees and the Space Needle. The image illustrates what a bird sees and why reflective building surfaces cause birds to fly into them.