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Photo by Tom Grey

Bird-Friendly Building Design in Santa Clara County - We Are Making Progress!

Main Article for the May-June 2017 issue of The Avocet

By Sigal Wilnai and Shani Kleinhaus


In the past decade, glass has become popular as building material in both home and commercial office space. To birds, this fashion trend is deadly. It is estimated that between 300 million and one billion birds die as a result of glass collisions annually in North America. Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society has been a leader in advocating for the birds, and partners with the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations in campaigning for bird-friendly policy in cities and with large companies.


Most bird deaths as a result of glass collisions go unreported due to the prevalence of scavengers such as crows, cats, raccoons or skunks that remove the casualties, but in 2013 a Peregrine Falcon carcass was found near San Jose City Hall. Orion, a Peregrine Falcon fledgling born on the roof of City Hall, had been carrying a pigeon to his nest when he collided with a window. Orion’s parents, Clara and Fernando El Cohete, are famous in San Jose - the pair has a dedicated page on the city’s website, a Facebook page, and a webcam that broadcasts a live video stream from the nest. Falcon fans around the world joined San Jose residents in following Clara and Fernando’s story, and when Orion (who was named by local school children) died, many were distraught. 


Collisions like these are easily avoidable as solutions are numerous, aesthetic, flexible, and often inexpensive.  Bird-friendly building design guidelines offer options such as reducing reflective glass areas, providing visual cues to alert birds to the risk, avoiding hazardous see-through flight paths, turning off non-emergency lighting at night, designing landscaping to avoid funneling open space toward buildings, and locating water features away from structures. Since solutions are simple with advanced planning, we have been advocating for the adoption of bird-friendly building design policy by cities. In addition, we created a new “Make Your Home Safe For Birds” brochure to provide homeowners with solutions to help them reduce the risk of window strikes ( Protecting birds from window strikes can add value to homes by increasing energy savings, reducing disruptive glare, and decreasing light pollution.



Photos by Nick Dunlop, left to right: Clara flying over the city, San Jose falcon pair


Policy that we successfully advocated for in previous years is now bearing fruit. In Mountain View, new North Bayshore campuses are incorporating visual cues to help birds see and avoid glass facades. The design of Intuit’s new building has won accolades and drawn media attention with headlines such as “Intuit’s Sleek New Building 20 Helps Save Area Birds’ Lives” (Curbed Magazine). Google and Microsoft are also planning with birds in mind, and their new campus buildings will minimize light pollution and include visual cues on all glass surfaces. Buildings outside of North Bayshore are also starting to implement voluntary bird-safe measures with the hope of attracting world-class companies to their projects. In Palo Alto, new green-building requirements include some bird-friendly design measures near creeks and open space. Facebook’s new building in Menlo Park features a 9-acre living-roof habitat and incorporates visual cues on the building’s glass facades, and a second building, currently under construction, provides similar measures. Santa Clara County supervisors recently directed their staff and architects to include bird-safety in the master plan for the new Civic Center in San Jose. We thank Supervisors Yeager, Simitian and Chavez for responding to our advocacy and highlighting the importance of the issue.


In 2015, the City of San Jose developed Bird-Safe Design Guidelines and Checklist, recommending measures for new commercial construction, and last year the city council adopted a Riparian Policy and Bird-Safe Design Ordinance. While the full set of measures is in effect only north of Highway 237, the ordinance recommends some protective measures (for example, avoiding highly reflective facades) along all creeks in the city. In March 2017, the council voted to prioritize a roadmap to a study for expanding the bird-friendly design requirement to riparian corridors and open spaces citywide. Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society continues our campaign for bird-friendly buildings in our region. We hope San Jose will expand mandatory bird-safety measures, and that additional cities and companies will also embrace the birds that reside in or migrate through our landscape.


In this long-term campaign, hundreds of San Jose residents responded to our alerts, came to speak to the San Jose City Council, or sent emails and letters. Your elected officials listened, and we would like to recognize the council members who have been supportive of this effort: Mayor Liccardo and Council Members Peralez, Jimenez, Rocha, Khamis, and Nguyen as well as former Vice Mayor Herrera and former Assemblymember Kalra. We also thank our membership – you – for engaging in this effort and hope you continue to respond to our alerts.