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Bird-friendly Design Guidelines

Project Status: 

Bird-friendly Design Guidelines

The Protocol for Wildlife Protection during Construction, approved by City Council in 2015 as part of the City’s Wildlife Strategy, speaks to the necessity of bringing forward clear guidelines for the protection of birds within the human built environment.

This project will research and develop bird-friendly design guidelines to address and help mitigate the issue of bird collisions on buildings and other structures in Ottawa. 

This is a photograph showing the reflection of a bird and the sky in a building window


Birds are an essential natural resource in Ottawa.  They perform numerous roles in our environment such as pollinating plants, distributing seeds, and eating insects, all of which help to maintain the ecological health of wetlands, forests and valleylands.  They are also useful for pest control and pollination for agriculture and forestry.  Birds are also important for keeping nature in the city and add to our quality of life through their song and colourful appearance.

The Ottawa Bird Count estimates that there are approximately 2 million birds within the urban area of Ottawa.  There are 180 species of breeding birds within the geographic limits of Ottawa, which include both resident and migratory birds.  Each year, approximately 7 million birds migrate over the City during the spring and fall migration.  Migratory birds will land periodically on their route in order to eat, rest and/or take shelter from poor weather.  The urban environment poses a number of risks, which threaten the survivability of birds.

Bird Collisions

Bird collisions are the second largest cause of bird mortality in Canada, after predation by household and feral cats.  Canadian research estimates that 25 million birds are killed each year as a result of collisions with windows and other structures.  Other factors that adversely impact the health of bird populations include loss of habitat, climatic changes and the use of pesticides.

Glass, whether reflective or clear, is effectively invisible to birds.  If windows reflect sky or vegetation, birds perceive only the reflected image, not the window itself.  Any human-built structure that incorporates glass or reflective building material into the design can cause bird collisions during the day.  Artificial light also acts as a threat to birds.  Many birds migrate at night, relying on natural cues for guidance on direction including stars and moonlight.  Artificial light can obscure those natural signals and cause birds to become disoriented or panic, often leading to a collision.  

Best Management Practices for Bird-friendly Design

The City recently initiated the development of Bird-friendly Design Guidelines to address the protection of birds in the human-built environment.  The goals of this initiative are to protect against biodiversity loss, reduce threats to birds caused by buildings and other structures and enhance public awareness of the issue.  Numerous large cities in Canada have already developed bird-friendly design guidelines, including, for example, Toronto, Markham and Vancouver.  Those existing guidelines, along with best practices identified from other North American cities, are expected to provide the basis for Ottawa’s guidelines.

Ottawa’s Bird-friendly Design Guidelines will provide best management practices in three core areas related to the design and operation of buildings and other structures:

Part 1: Siting and building design

Factors that will be assessed in this section of the design guidelines include:

  • Building size
  • Orientation and siting (i.e. high risk collision areas)
  • Proximity to natural features
  • Types of glass
  • Reflectivity
  • Transparency
  • Black hole / passage effect
  • Design traps
  • Green roofs, walls and terraces

Part 2: Landscape design

Factors that will be addressed in this section of the design guidelines include:

  • Vertical vegetation structure design
  • Native and invasive plants
  • Landscape management activities (i.e. timing)

Part 3: Lighting design

  • Factors that will be addressed in this section of the design guidelines include:
  • Fatal Light Attraction
  • Beacon effect


The proposed design guidelines will apply in the review of the following:

  • Development requiring planning approval (i.e. Site Plan)
  • Design review of proposed new or modified transit stations and shelters
  • Design review of new or retrofits to municipal buildings and facilities

Project timeline

A working group has been established to provide input to staff on the development of the guidelines. The Draft design guidelines will also be posted for public review and comment. The guidelines are expected to be presented to Committees and Council in 2020.

You may also be interested in:

Safe Wings Ottawa

FLAP Canada

For more information about this project, please contact:

Amy MacPherson, Planner 
Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development
613-580-2424, ext. 14873

As we heard it report: Draft Bird-Safe Design Guidelines

The comment period for the City’s draft Bird-Safe Design Guidelines closed on July 31, 2020. A total of 57 written submissions were received via the online comment form or by e-mail. Most of these were from Ottawa residents, but some were received from members of the City’s working group for the project, or from interested individuals outside of Ottawa.

City staff have reviewed all the comments received and thank all those who took the time to review the draft document and provide input. The comments were unanimously supportive of the project, and many submissions urged for stronger measures and language to further reduce risks for birds.

The final Bird-Safe Design Guidelines will be brought forward for consideration by Planning Committee and Council in fall 2020.

Approved by Committee and Council

The Bird-Safe Design Guidelines were approved by Planning Committee and City Council in November 2020. Additional criteria for the application of the guidelines during development review were also approved. You can review the criteria and the final approved guidelines on the City’s Guide to Preparing Studies and Plans web page.