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Protecting Our Feathered Friends: A Guide to Bird Safety in New Developments for Public Input

Updated: Jan 4



This guide is meant to support advocates and members of the public encouraging adoption of bird safe design requirements at the level of individual building construction, by participating in the development approval process. Information is provided based on the process in London, Ontario, Canada, which may also be applicable to other jurisdictions.


We are in the midst of a building boom, as governments are scrambling to increase the supply of housing and related infrastructure. Unfortunately for birds, much of the new building construction going on follows designs that use large amounts of glass (glazing) that create major risks.


What's the problem?

Each year, tens of millions of birds are killed in Canada by colliding with windows, glass railings and other applications of plate glass on buildings. Collisions usually occur during the daytime when glass appears reflective (e.g., a window on a building) or is transparent (e.g., a balcony railing or bus shelter). Birds often suffer collisions with glass as they are attempting to fly towards where they perceive an extension of open space or habitat instead of a solid surface. Most of these collisions occur at or below the height of the tree canopy surrounding buildings, or up to the fourth storey. By the numbers, collisions occur more frequently at mid-rise and low-rise buildings, including residences, because these buildings are much more numerous on the landscape compared to high-rise buildings. This point is worth emphasizing: bird collisions are not only a risk for tall buildings (source). Author's note: the London Official Plan's City Building Policies, section 304 includes outdated misinformation about focussing bird safe design on high-rise buildings.


Simple design modifications can make new and existing buildings safer for birds. By swapping out different materials for glazing (components of windows) that incorporate visual markers – a signal to alert birds to the presence of a solid obstacle they cannot fly through – buildings can achieve compliance with a bird safety standard without substantially altering the design. This is not the same thing as just slapping a few stickers on the glass. In general, the leading standard is CSA A460 Bird Friendly Building Design which is available for the public to access for free, and is also freely accessible to all members of the Ontario Association of Architects. Since 2019, more jurisdictions are adopting CSA A460, which is preferable to each having their own version of bird safety specifications. Learn more about accessing solutions for bird safe windows in London


Picture shows a building facade with four windows covered in small white dots.
Example of a bird safe building design in London. Windows achieve compliance with CSA A460 by including high-contrast visual markers spaced less than 5 cm apart on the exterior surface. The dots are barely visible from inside.

How is bird safe building design regulated?

In some jurisdictions, bird safe design compliance is mandatory under municipal site plan control by-laws. Municipalities derive authority from Section 41 of the Municipal Act (or, for Toronto specifically, Section 114 of the City of Toronto Act) to include in their official plans areas to be designated as "areas of site plan control". Effectively, these are building approvals that can be subject to requirements as laid out through the site plan control process. For example, in Ontario, the City of Toronto, the City of Markham and the Town of Ajax have implemented bird safety requirements through their site plan control by-laws. Bird safe design is being implemented in Canadian jurisdictions outside Ontario, too. For instance, the City of Winnipeg, Manitoba recently adopted mandatory requirements. For more information about bird safety measures across North American jurisdictions, see this consolidated list.


What "requirements" mean in practice is that a proposed development that is legally required to have a site plan (per Section 41 of the Municipal Act) cannot receive approval from the municipality to proceed past the site planning stage unless the proponent demonstrates how they will achieve bird safety in their application. It's important to note that site planning applies to some types of buildings, but not others. In general, single-detached homes and multi-unit residential buildings with less than 10 units are exempt from site planning in Ontario. Site plans usually apply to larger buildings – commercial, industrial, multi-unit residential, and so on. Learn more about site plan control


Some jurisdictions have implemented bird safety requirements, but only where certain triggers are met, such as proximity to green space. This practice is not recommended by subject experts for the simple reason that birds fly everywhere and collisions can occur even in areas far removed green space. Many more municipalities in Ontario have adopted bird safe design guidelines, or incentives in the form of checklists or credits that developers can adopt voluntarily. However, these "nice to have" implementations of bird safe design are not enforced as mandatory conditions of site plan approval. In practice, unless bird safety is required by the approvals process, it rarely materializes in the final building design. Factoring bird safety into the budget for a building doesn't really provide direct benefits to the developer or building owner in the way other sustainable design features can, like improved energy performance, so it is seen as lower priority.


In summary, depending on where (in which municipality) a new building is being constructed, and whether the building requires a site plan or not, bird safety requirements may or may not apply. What follows are suggestions of how to advocate for bird safe design where such requirements are not already mandatory. As of January 2024, London, Ontario has yet to implement bird safe design requirements through site plan control.


A primer on how to share feedback on new developments

The process of a municipality approving new development is open to public input through several potential channels. This process from start to finish includes many stages. If you want to advocate for specific changes to the design, the pressure you apply needs to align with the right part of the process in order to be effective. For instance, if a development is still in the early days of zoning or potentially requiring an amendment to an official plan, it would be premature to discuss detailed design decisions. Conversely, if public consultation has already occurred and a site plan has already been approved by the municipality, it is likely too late to be requesting changes.


In London, the correct stage to be advocating for bird safe design in a new development is when a planning application for the development appears on an agenda of the Planning and Environment Committee (PEC). You will need to convince the members of that committee (city councillors) to add conditions to site plan approval of the development. This may require some background research to understand the timeline for a specific development. Information about upcoming planning applications is made available online here.


The public can access PEC meeting agendas online here up to one week in advance, as well as video recordings of past meetings (current meetings are live-streamed and hosted temporarily on the City Council YouTube channel). Decisions about approving planning applications will often be accompanied by a public participation meeting, where the public is invited to attend (either online or at City Hall) and to share feedback. More information about how to participate at a public participation meeting is available here. Your feedback can be shared with PEC in the form of a written submission (e.g., a letter) and/or through a verbal delegation, which is limited to 5 minutes of speaking time. Written submissions must be emailed at least two days in advance of the meeting to PEC@london.ca. When making your submission, I would recommend copying the email addresses of individual members of PEC (listed here). Below are some tips for preparing your feedback in either format.


For written submissions, it is best to keep your feedback very short, using plain and respectful language (councillors generally cannot read and digest everything that lands on their desk, especially during long meetings). Aim for your submission to be less than two pages. The most important asks or comments should appear emphasized at the very beginning of your submission, presented in 1-2 sentences. Remember to specify the development that you are writing about, and note that you are making a submission to be included on the public agenda.


For verbal delegations, it is okay to read from a script, but try to speak from the heart and make eye contact. Where possible, make your message personal to the Councillors you are trying to persuade to listen to you. Maybe include personal anecdotes about why you care about birds, or your experiences living in the area. Have you ever had a bird hit your window? What was that like? Making connections is key.


When planning to attend a PEC meeting, keep in mind there are likely to be many other items on the agenda on a given day and there may be other speakers. Although you will get to speak for only 5 minutes, you should expect for the entire process to take a couple of hours. Note the sequential order of the agenda items and where the item you are speaking about appears – if it is lower on the list, you may not need to show up at the very beginning of the meeting. If attending in-person at City Hall, you will sit in the public gallery upstairs, or you may be directed to a separate committee meeting room. Feel free to ask for directions at the entrance. If attending online, a meeting link (Zoom) will be emailed to you in advance after you register.


How to ask for bird-safe building design

It is generally best for a submission to be custom-written and personalized, instead of using a template. You can draft a strong letter by embedding any or all of the points suggested below. Whether your feedback is written, verbal or both, here are ten aspects to consider including:

1. In advocating for inclusion of bird safe design in a site plan, you should explicitly request that the development comply with the CSA A460 Bird Friendly Building Design standard. It is really important that a standard be followed or else the development could use methods that are not effective for preventing bird collisions, or the overall scope of application could be reduced (e.g., treating just a couple windows). London does not presently have its own bird safe design guidelines but does refer to CSA A460 in its literature. Bird safe design should be used regardless of the environment immediately surrounding the building. Because birds fly through urban areas, even buildings far removed from vegetation can pose a risk.

2. Bird safe design is NOT TOO EXPENSIVE – this is a common source of misinformation that may result in pushback from developers. In fact, incorporating bird safe design typically reflects a tiny fraction of <1% of the overall construction cost of any building! The difference in cost of using bird safe materials for windows does not amount to any change in unit cost (for residential) ultimately paid by homebuyers. The cost of bird safe design may be influenced by the overall amount of glass/glazing that's used (less glass = lower cost), the size of the structure and the selection of the specific material (e.g., exterior application film is cheaper than fritted or etched glass). An architect practicing in Ontario recently shared the following examples of costing of bird safe design for different types of buildings:

  • Mid-rise higher education building; 100% of the glass requires marking = 5%-10% increase in cost of window contract

  • 40 storey MURB; 10% of the glass requires markings (up to the 5th story) = 1% increase in cost of window contract

  • Low-rise Data Centre / Warehouse (with little glazing); 100% of glass requires markings = 0% increase in window contract

3. Bird safe design has already been established in local architectural practice and is demonstrably feasible. All of the largest academic institutions in London, including Western University and its affiliates Brescia, Huron and King's University College, and Fanshawe College, have already voluntarily adopted bird safe design in buildings on their campuses (see examples).

4. Canada's bird populations are declining due to human factors, with window collisions being a leading preventable source of bird deaths. Documentation of extensive bird injuries and deaths caused by collisions with existing buildings in London is available from a dedicated community science project on iNaturalist.

5. Under the federal Migratory Bird Regulations (2022) and the provincial Environmental Protection Act, it is illegal for building windows to kill birds. This has been upheld in case law. In London, numerous bird species at risk are susceptible to window collisions that are further protected by the federal Species at Risk Act and provincial Endangered Species Act. Owners of buildings that are subject to complaints must show evidence of due diligence (mitigation) or they could face litigation. It is significantly more expensive to retrofit a problematic building that is killing birds after construction, due to additional labour costs. The most economical approach is to make the building design safe for birds in the first place.

6. If buildings are not constructed to be safe for birds, they are likely to cause wildlife injuries and deaths indefinitely into the future. Building occupants are at risk of being chronically exposed to this suffering (e.g., hearing thuds, finding carcasses) which can have harmful effects on mental health.

7. Birds provide London with many valuable ecological and cultural services that are put at risk when buildings are designed to be unsafe. Birds play vital roles in combating climate change by limiting populations of pest insects, pollinating plants and dispersing seeds.

8. In August 2023, City Council officially declared London is a Bird Friendly City. With the highest score in the certification program across Canada, our City is regarded as a model for prioritizing bird conservation through its policies. Preventing bird-window collisions is a core component of the Bird Friendly City program. Currently, over 20 other municipalities in Ontario standardly include bird safe design in approving new developments.

9. For more information on solutions for bird-window collisions, refer readers to flap.org

10. Bird safe design is one of the less expensive "sustainability" features to include in a new building, as compared to other asks developers may receive. If you are preparing a list with other requested features, consider positioning bird safety first or last in your list. It may be selected over other items that gain less support.


As you prepare your submission, consider other ways to expand your impact and apply pressure by sharing information on social media, and encourage others to prepare their own submissions. Alternatively, submitting a letter on behalf of a group (with many signatures attached) is a way to demonstrate strong community support.


At some point in the near future, hopefully the City of London will adopt bird safe building design requirements into its site plan control by-law. This has been in the works since 2018, but plans for implementation are presently unclear. It is possible that the CSA A460 standard will be incorporated as recommended when the by-law is updated in the second half of 2024, to effectively require bird safe design in all new site plans issued across the city. If this change is made, it would no longer be necessary for community to advocate for individual developments to comply with bird safe design practices. Stay tuned!


In the meantime, continued vigilance and public participation in development approvals can help to limit harms to bird populations associated with ongoing outdated construction practices.

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