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Portland City Council Passes Bird-Friendly Buildings Ordinance

Bird-glass collisions kill up to one billion birds in the U.S. each year, and BirdSafe Maine has been working since 2020 to understand the problem in Maine. We’ve done a lot in that short time, including our recent awards, our statewide legislation, school curriculum, years of collision monitoring, and numerous pre- and post-construction consultations.

We’ve had another goal since our founding, however: a city ordinance in Portland requiring the use of bird-safe technologies. A growing number of cities across the country have taken similar measures, including New York City, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Oakland, and others – but none so far in New England. We hoped that passing an ordinance in Maine’s largest city would help spur awareness and adoption of this issue across our region.

We realized our goal this week. On Monday, June 17, 2024, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to approve a city-wide bird safe buildings ordinance. This was the culmination of approximately two years’ work with the local building and design community, city officials, our volunteers, and policy experts.

Our work began in earnest in the summer of 2022, when the Portland Society of Architecture convened a number of local architects to discuss the issue and examine existing ordinances from elsewhere in the country. With strong support from Maine Law intern Lee Foden, the group worked together to design a draft ordinance that was tailored for Portland. We continued to refine the ordinance over the coming months with larger groups of architects, and also officials from the City of Portland.

Austin Smith of Simons Architects, and a member of the BirdSafe Maine Leadership Team, speaks before the City Council

We didn’t quite wrap things up in time for the City Council election in 2023, and so waited to bring the ordinance before the Council until new members could be seated and we had an opportunity to discuss the ordinance with them. It all came together this week, when a strong group of supporters spoke in favor of the ordinance before a unanimous 7-0 vote (two Councilors were absent from the meeting).

We’re proud of our ordinance and how we’ve worked to learn from other cities’ experiences with similar ordinances to craft our own. The policy requires new commercial projects of more than 10,000 sq. ft. to use bird safe materials (an ABC threat factor of 30 or better) on their facades up to 75 feet. There’s a lot to that – including education about the large number of existing buildings in Portland with bird-safe facades, whether they know it or not.

The realities of political negotiations mean that these are not the strongest regulations in the nation, but our philosophy up here is centered around the fundamental importance of working to educate architects and designers about bird safe techniques and products. We’re proud of laying a foundation that keeps the architectural community on board.

There’s plenty left to do, and we’re just getting started. This summer, BirdSafe Maine will work to develop educational and guidance documents to help implement both this Portland ordinance and LD 670, the recent legislation we help pass to establish voluntary bird safe guidelines for state-funded buildings.