Are birds hitting your home? SF wants to know 

click to enlarge The Planning Department says only 1 percent of bird collisions involve skyscrapers, but it wants to know if that number is greater for residential buildings. - MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Mike Koozmin/s.f. examiner file photo
  • The Planning Department says only 1 percent of bird collisions involve skyscrapers, but it wants to know if that number is greater for residential buildings.

People hit deer with their cars. Boats collide with whales. But in San Francisco, birds hit buildings.

Now The City wants to know if your house or apartment has had such a collision.

"If you've experienced a bird collision with your home in the past, we're looking for your help!"

Thus begins the notice on the Planning Department's website about a program cataloging avian collisions with buildings -- not people or cars -- known as the Bird Friendly Monitoring and Certification Program.

The department is asking San Franciscans -- mostly in residential neighborhoods -- to participate in a study to see how many birds hit houses and apartments. Surprisingly, only 1 percent of bird collisions involve skyscrapers.

Through November, the department hopes residents outside of downtown will participate. Another program will start up in spring.

"The monitoring program will focus on collecting data with one-time questions about the building and its potential hazards," the announcement said. "Then on a weekly basis, participants will monitor the perimeter of their building, and especially under windows, for dead and injured birds."

The monitoring is meant to take place during the fall migration season, which runs through the end of November.

Data collected can be submitted to

But there's also an incentive. Based on the number of monitoring entries submitted, participants will be entered into a raffle with prizes like museum passes and, you guessed it, guided birding tours.

"Part of the motivation behind our Collision Monitoring Program then was to collect local data in an attempt to more fully understand the nature and distribution of collisions in our own city," Planner Andrew Perry wrote.

Estimates for such collision vary, Perry pointed out, but at least 100 million birds die after colliding with buildings in North America annually.

"One of the challenges, however, is that these collisions will often go unnoticed," Perry added. "Hummingbirds are especially common colliders, but may not be large enough to alert someone inside the building, and other birds may collide and survive the initial impact, only to succumb to injuries a little later."

In 2011, The City passed an ordinance meant to protect birds from hazardous buildings, which included things such as "free-standing glass hazards," and set out rules requiring bird-safe steps to be taken when certain buildings undergo construction, additions or window replacements. The bulk of The City's requirements fall on projects within 300 feet of urban bird refuges.

These so-called refuges are defined as areas that are 2 acres and up and dominated by vegetation. Such refuges include "vegetated landscaping, forest, meadows, grassland, or wetlands, or open water."

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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