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NYC is becoming a safer place for migratory birds

By Molly Adams, Safina Center Launchpad Fellow

Last week, New York City Council passed Int. 1482-2019, the most comprehensive bird friendly building legislation in the world. This bill will amend the New York City building code and require new construction and significantly altered buildings to use bird friendly materials on the first 75 feet of their facades, all transparent railings, and surrounding green roofs. This bill was passed on December 10th, 2019, and will most likely lapse into law in early January 2020. The law will go into effect one year later, with new bird friendly buildings being built as early as January 2021.

Photo: Highly reflective glass in Manhattan. © Sophie Butcher

Passing Int. 1482 took an enormous group effort, and it was a long time coming. NYC Audubon has been studying window collisions in the city since 1997,  when volunteers began collecting dead birds and monitoring some of the buildings they were finding them in front of. This research continues today and is the reason we can confidently estimate that between 90,000-230,000 birds die per year in NYC alone, resulting in up to 1 billion world wide. Decades later, in December of last year, one of New York City Audubon volunteers reached out to City Council and was finally able to share that we know plenty of solutions to this problem, but that we need their help to require them.

Photo: A selection of window collision victims. © Sophie Butcher

I was hired as New York City Audubon’s Advocacy and Outreach Manager, a brand new position, primarily to focus on bird friendly building legislation, in February of this year, and in March, Int. 1482 was introduced by Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Rafael Espinal. We then formed a working group made mostly of members of the Bird Safe Buildings Alliance, including representatives from New York City Audubon, American Bird Conservancy, FXCollaborative, Ennead Architects, American Institute of Architects. We worked with City Council and the Mayor’s Office to strengthen this bill by amending it to make it both enforceable and passable. Collisions mostly occur when habitat  is reflected by glass, so the bill was amended to require the building use bird friendly design where it’s needed most, and to appease developers so that they can omit it where it is not necessary.

Thanks to the amount of dedicated advocates that pushed for this bill and contacted their council members, Int. 1482 had over 20 cosponsors by the time it was voted on last week.  

20 cosponsors means nearly half the city council supported it, which left us confident knowing the bill needed a majority of votes to pass, but not many of us expected it to pass with an overwhelming vote of 43-3.

I look forward to continuing to work with the appropriate agencies over the next year to make the adaptation of this law as seamless as possible and shifting my focus towards working with NYC Audubon volunteers to approach existing buildings that will not be affected by this law, as well as laws regarding nocturnal light. I’m very proud to live in a city dedicated to becoming a safer place for migrating birds!

Photo: NYC Audubon Project Safe Flight volunteer collecting a stunned Ovenbird. © Sophie Butcher

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