Facility designs that consider the welfare and safety of wildlife isn’t for the birds—in fact it’s an important consideration to ensure facilities are enjoyable and safe for users and wildlife. Building materials, lighting, and landscaping can lead to a variety of issues on a building site, from bird collisions with a building (called bird strikes) to roosting, perching, or nesting on building structures.

Speakers Randy Geise, senior healthcare facility planner at Cleveland Clinic (Cleveland, Ohio), and Richard Dolbeer, American biologist and owner of Dolbeer Wildlife Consulting (Huron, Ohio), discussed these issues and solutions for architects to resolve them at the Healthcare Design Expo and Conference in Cleveland, during the session “For the Birds! Designing for Bird-safe and Eco-friendly Buildings.”

Dolbeer started the presentation with some good news: the population of most large iconic birds, such as the Golden Eagle, Common Loon, and Wild Turkey, have increased. However, with this population growth, as well as the abundance of other birds, can come problems related to inappropriate architectural designs in a variety of building types, from airports to healthcare. For example, at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, an entry canopy with exposed I-beams provided a flat, covered surface that attracted hundreds of starlings and became a roosting site that created sanitary and safety issues.

Several temporary solutions were attempted, including sonic noise to deter the birds from the area and compressed air to keep them from landing on the beams. However, Dolbeer noted, these measures often don’t work or the birds come back once they’re turned off. In this case, the long-term solution was to retrofit the structure with netting, which still needs to be replaced when it tears or a bird gets stuck inside.

Ideally, Dolbeer said, the problem would be addressed during the design phase with better material selection, such as tubular steel, or design strategies, such as eliminating nooks where birds can roost. “Architecture needs to ensure that building designs will not provided roosting/nesting sites for birds,” Dolbeer says.

At Cleveland Clinic’s facility in Westin, Fla., the speakers shared how sun shades and nearby landscaping contributed to a grackle invasion on the campus. Dolbeer said the flat surface of the sunshades were an ideal spot for birds to perch, while the nearby oak trees underneath the windows are their preferred roosting habitat. The bird invasion led to unsightly and unsanitary conditions outside the windows of some of the patient care areas. The solution: relocating the trees and treating the shades with a plastic coating that make them too slippery for perching.

While large bird populations may be on the rise, the speakers shared that many smaller bird populations, such as the Savannah Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, and the Cerulean Warbler, are experiencing a steep decline. While a variety of factors are causing the decline, including collisions with aircrafts, communication towers, and power lines, the number one cause is windows—which account for killing more than 600 million birds a year. “As we move to more buildings with glass, it’s exacerbating the problem,” Dolbeer says.

For example, shortly after the Richard Jacobs Health Center opened in October 2015, dead birds were found outside the entrance of the all-glass building. While Dolbeer said reflective surfaces such as building glass may confuse birds on what’s in front of them, causing them to fly into the building. To fix the issue, the health center added vertical strips to the glass surface to create a pattern that alerted the animals to the building structure.

Dolbeer offered additional solutions to prevent bird strikes, including turning off inside lights at night or closing blinds. “Less light at night is good for a lot of reasons,” he said. “We need light for security and safety but can we minimize it?” Other ideas included removing nearby trees that reflect off buildings, installing non-reflective glass with UV-reflecting strips, adding frits or stripes (with UV component), or utilizing new building covers, such as an ETFE membrane, to eliminate reflection issues.

The goal, he said, is to deliver “safer building environments for our fine-feathered friends.”