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Adaptive architecture helps birds soar

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

By Caitlynn Sue and Anna Yue Nov. 9, 2023

Peter Yoon Art

On the morning of Oct. 5, David Willard, a bird strike data collector and retired bird division collections manager at Chicago Field Museum, was greeted by a carpet of corpses. Nearly a thousand dead birds littered the ground around McCormick Place Lakeside Center in Chicago, forming a layer of corpses around the window-lined building.

Birds lack the ability to differentiate reality from reflection and fail to recognize glass as solids. During the daytime, reflections created by sunlight on windows and reflective materials cause the birds to crash into glass as they believe they are flying toward the sky. Beneath the moon and stars, birds follow their migration journey at night to prevent predators. However, the brightness of city lights in the dark can confuse birds, leading to crashes or fatal light attraction, where birds circle the light source until they die of exhaustion.

Bird collisions are a growing issue around the world, especially in big cities. Research from the Smithsonian in 2014 found that 365 million to one billion birds are killed from collisions every year in the U.S.. Scientists from Cornell University estimate that bird populations in North America have dropped by 3 billion in the past 50 years.

Outnumbering the highest record in the past 40 years by 700, the number of corpses found at McCormick Center far exceeds the average of zero to 15 deaths per day, Willard said. Common reasons for bird deaths could no longer be used to explain the abnormality.

Unusually high temperatures in September and October are partially to blame. Many birds were waiting for northern winds to help them fly south, but southern winds created by the warm weather prevented them from migrating at their usual times. On Oct. 4, the northern winds arrived, leading to the abundance of birds in the air above Chicago that night. Pre-dawn rain drove them to fly at lower altitudes and lights from the city disoriented them, making them crash into windows.

Precautions can be made to reduce the chance of window strikes. Experts advocate for architecture that helps birds understand a solid object is in front of them. Some designs that have been proposed use tinted, patterned or less glass or consider the positioning of glass windows. In addition, turning off lights when they are not needed can prevent collisions—many cities run “Lights Out” campaigns during bird migratory seasons.

“Because birds are vital to biodiversity, they should be protected. I would be willing to make changes in my lifestyle, such as sacrificing window aesthetics, to help preserve their lives,” Junior Alisha Ahuja said.

Peter Yoon Art

In 2016, Manhattan’s Javits Center replaced its clear glass walls with glass panels covered in ceramic dot patterns, which decreased bird fatalities by 90% but cost $500 million, per The New York Times. However, other bird-friendly designs such as stickers and tape are much less expensive. These can be placed on windows to help birds recognize that a solid object is in their way. Yet, since glass windows cover the majority of the surface of many modern buildings, it would be difficult and inconvenient to adjust all the windows to follow bird safety measures.

“Birds are important for society and affecting their migration patterns could have a negative impact on the ecosystem. However, I would not put stickers on my own windows to protect birds since it would not be aesthetically pleasing and birds usually do not bump into them,” Senior Tasaria Kilpatrick said.

Despite the continual construction of skyscrapers in the world today, the deaths of migratory birds can be reduced by spreading awareness of the danger of reflective surfaces and taking extra care and consideration when designing buildings.


About the contributors

Anna Yue

staff writer

Anna Yue is a sophomore staff writer for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys crocheting, sleeping, watching dramas, listening to music and reading web novels,

Caitlynn Sue


Caitlynn Sue is a sophmore at Leland High school and an artist for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys drawing, playing violin, and dancing.

Peter Yoon


Peter Yoon is a sophomore at Leland High School and is an artist for The Charger Account. During his free time, he likes to listen to music, draw, and sleep.

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