With ongoing construction in the Meadowlands in recent decades, an unanticipated cost has become more and more apparent: an alarming number of bird deaths.
The Meadowlands attracts tens of thousands of birds each year, representing more than 200 species, as it offers a diversity of habitats and sits in the Atlantic Flyway, a major migration corridor for many different birds, from raptors to waterfowl to songbirds, every spring and fall.
Bird collisions with buildings are a significant problem.
That is why New Jersey Audubon and Bergen County Audubon Society are calling for the passage of legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Tim Eustace, A-4795, requiring non-residential buildings and structures constructed or reconstructed in the Meadowlands to use bird-friendly glass or other methods to significantly reduce bird collisions.
The Meadowlands are an important habitat for birds. Between 2004 and 2006, New Jersey Audubon recorded more than 150,000 individuals of 200 bird species in the Meadowlands, including 35 endangered, threatened or species of special concern.
Collision with structures is the cause of hundreds of millions of bird deaths each year in the United States. Structures featuring glass are particularly dangerous because transparent windows and reflective surfaces can easily look like continuing open air, and don’t appear as barriers to birds.
At night, glass buildings can even attract migrating birds that mistake reflections of light for navigational cues normally provided by stars and the moon.
Bright lights at night have been shown to disorient birds, causing them to circle the light source, sometimes for hours, which can result in exhaustion and in many cases, collisions with building windows or the ground.
Mortality rates resulting from collisions with building glass have been found to increase with a variety of factors. One clear concern - the more glass on a building, the greater percentage of bird strikes.
These problems can be amplified under weather conditions that hamper overall visibility, such as fog, or challenge capabilities, such as strong winds.
Birds are especially vulnerable on cloudy days when they must fly lower in the sky, and certain bird species that make long journeys and are unfamiliar with certain areas are more at risk for hitting a building.
New Jersey Audubon is now assessing the magnitude and extent of bird-building collisions in Newark. This spring, we conducted surveys at 12 tall buildings and found more than 250 individuals of 50 species that had collided with buildings in the months of April and May. Of these, more than half were dead and the rest were injured.
We hope to continue our work during the fall migration and help to quantify the magnitude of the problem systematically, identifying specific buildings that may contribute to high mortality rates, documenting factors that may contribute to variation in the number of birds injured and killed and developing strategies to ameliorate these impacts.
The cumulative effects of bird strikes are significant in northern New Jersey. The proposed legislation would be a major step to reducing bird mortality in the Meadowlands, which feature a range of structures, from shining skyscrapers in Jersey City to smaller business buildings in Kearny.
The Meadowlands is likely to experience significant, continued growth. In 2004, the New Jersey Meadowlands Council authored a new master plan to target redevelopment in blighted areas, anticipating a new market value of $5.6 billion and more than 56,000 jobs.
By requiring new buildings to feature designs that will make buildings more visible to birds – such as opaque glass, creating designs on glass and innovative lighting systems – the legislation offers thoughtful protections for migrating birds passing through the Meadowlands.
This law encourages important and ongoing dialogue toward responsible architectural designs that are less harmful to birds. As northern New Jersey continues to develop and urbanize, now is the time to proactively avoid continued impacts to bird populations from building strikes, which only compounds losses from other threats such as habitat loss and climate change.