09 January 2009

Rendering of Building Depicts a Pending Bird Hazard in Omaha

An architectural rendering of building planned for construction in midtown Omaha depicts a building that will is likely be a hazard to migratory birds.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, an insurance company, just announced plans to construct a $98 million, 10-story office building within the mixed-use development at Aksarben village, at the corner of Aksarben Drive and Shirley streets.

Architectural drawing of the Blue Cross Centre, showing the extensive use of glass and landscaping features.

The building design depicts several features that will likely result in bird strikes and subsequent deaths and injuries to numbers of migratory birds, including typical hazards as known from buildings where hundreds of deadly bird strikes have occurred in downtown Omaha.

1) An exterior that is basically comprised of reflective glass, from the ground floor to the top of the structure. The glass is completely within the air-zone of many of the birds that flit through skies of the Missouri River valley flyway.
2) Landscaping that includes trees in close proximity to the structure. The architect's drawing shows trees on three sides. The trees are placed in close proximity to the building, with enough distance that a bird flying from the foliage towards a distracting reflection of greenery, would strike with sufficient force to cause a devastating impact.
3) Close proximity to natural features that are pathways used by migratory birds, including being placed adjacent to the Little Papillion creek, and on a site within a mile southwest of Elmwood Park. More than 180 different species of birds have been recorded as occurring within the park environs, and during their migration, they would be attracted to plant landscaping to the south as they move along during the days when foraging.
4) A widest expanse for the structure for the north and south sides, presenting a maximum exposure to birds moving through in the same directions during migrations.

The rendering also does not indicate any features that are known to help minimize bird-strikes, according to accepted practices for known, bird-friendly designs. This could include use of special types of glass, obstructions to break up reflections, or, perhaps, screening to make reflective surfaces opaque.

Based on the limited details shown in the rendering for the Blue Cross Centre, it is not apparent if there will be plants within the building's lobby or entry area, which would just be an additional threat.

The building may be built with "green" consideration - in this case apparently efficient use of energy - but it is obviously not designed to be bird safe.

In early December, just a few blocks away, there was a community meeting to consider how Omaha can promote a green environment. One topic suggested that should be addressed as a natural resources component was to design buildings that are not hazardous to birds. Two areas being addressed and where bird-friendly design should be considered, were Natural Environment, and Building Construction. Although this effort is just underway, there is no reason buildings can't be built that pose on threat to an integral part of the local environment, the birds.

Architectural drawing of the design for a building that is nearing completion at Arsarben Village, showing the extensive use of glass and landscaping features.

This facet has readily been ignored, based on the building design prepared by Leo A. Daly Co., the same company which was the architect and engineering firm for the Carl T. Curtis National Park Service, Midwest Regional Headquarters along the Omaha Riverfront, where bird strikes are known to occur.

Mortality would be expected to occur when construction is completed in 2011. Visitors to the tall place could expect to see bird carcasses - rugularly during periodic migration season - on the walkway, or over on the grass, although building maintenance personnel will certainly find the feathered remains quickly and throw a once beautiful and vibrant bit of life into the trash for disposal.

The Askarben Village development already has other buildings in its UNO South Campus area and village section with reflective glass exteriors. Once landscaping features - various trees especially - are planted and get some growth, they will attract birds to the area.

These buildings will be hazardous to wild birds migrating through in spring and autumn. And, breeding birds such as mourning doves, common grackles and American robin that would be present in the summer could also get added to the probable tally of fatalities.

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