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New 11-storey building in downtown Victoria may harm birds, biologist says

Wednesday, January 19th 2022, 8:30 pm - Developer says it has taken steps to mitigate risks to birds, including using fritted glass

A sleek, modern building in downtown Victoria has been given the green light to move forward on development, but an avian biologist is worried the design, which features a lot of reflective glass, could be harmful to birds.

The structure, called the Telus Ocean building, is 11 storeys tall and will go up at Douglas Street and Humboldt Street. Development company Aryze says the project is intended to be the new business and innovation centre for B.C.'s capital.

Development lead Chris Quigley says the site is currently being prepared for construction, which is expected to begin in the next couple of months.

But Willow English, who works with Safe Wings, an organization dedicated to preventing bird collisions, is concerned for the bird population in Victoria if this building goes up the way it's designed.

"The first thing that caught my eye was the glass, just all glass, and it looked very reflective," she said.

Aryze Developments/CBC The Telus Ocean building in downtown Victoria, B.C., features a lot of glass surfaces, which advocates worry birds will fly into. (Aryze Developments)

Birds can often mistake windows and their transparency for clear space, through which they can keep flying. Additionally, when windows are reflective of nearby trees and other vegetation, birds may think they're flying toward a safe place to land and end up hitting a window.

Bird-friendly design guidelines exist in other cities, including in nearby Vancouver, but not for developers in Victoria — which is something English hopes will change.

Hundreds of millions of birds are killed due to human activity each year, and bird populations across Canada are down by about 30 per cent, according to English.

"One of the major reasons for this is thought to be collisions with glass," she added.

She said she's asked the developer for more information about the design and how it's going to minimize risk to birds, but has been given very little information.

Dead bird/Safe Wings Ottawa/CBC A dead bird is pictured below a three-storey glass walkway at the northern end of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. (Safe Wings Ottawa)

Quigley said bird safety was factored into the design of the project from the beginning.

He said there's less glazing, or glass surfacing, than appears in the renderings. He said the building is about 40 per cent glazing, which he says is low compared to other modern buildings in cities like Toronto and Vancouver.

Quigley said they also plan to use fritted glass — glass that has a pattern on it — used to help prevent birds from mistaking glass for open air.

"From a glazing perspective, there's been a lot of things done in terms of how it's designed and the type of glazing being proposed," Quigley said.

The story was originally published for CBC News on Jan. 19, 2022. It contains files from All Points West and CHEK News.

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