Audubon Society says glassy new Vikings stadium will needlessly kill birds

The Audubon Society says birds from about half of Minnesota's 250 breeding bird species regularly die from flying into glass buildings.
The Audubon Society says birds from about half of Minnesota's 250 breeding bird species regularly die from flying into glass buildings.

The Minnesota Audubon Society wants the Vikings and/or the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Authority to spend between $400,000 and roughly $1 million on a glaze that would help birds steer clear of the glassy new Vikings stadium.

But talks recently broke down, so now the Audubon Society is taking its case to the public.

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Yesterday, the Audubon Society distributed a press release entitled, "New Minnesota Vikings Stadium Threatens Minnesota's Birds."

"Despite state guidelines requiring bond-funded buildings to protect birds from window collisions, the Vikings and the MSFA last week rejected calls to use safer types of glass that could help prevent birds from fatally colliding with the stadium's huge glass windows as the birds migrate along the Mississippi River corridor each year," the release says. "According to scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Institution, up to 988 million birds are killed annually in the United States by collisions with buildings, especially glass windows. The new Vikings stadium will feature nearly 200,000 square feet of glass."

Later in the day, we asked Mark Martell, director of bird conservation for Audubon Minnesota, if there's anything particularly problematic about the design of the Vikings stadium. After all, many of Minneapolis's skyscrapers are encased in glass, right?

"I don't know that [the stadium] is more problematic, but we've been monitoring routes through downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul for six or seven years now, and those monitoring efforts have turned up 125 different species that have died from collisions with those windows," he replies. "Once a building is up, we work with them to turn lights off at night and do other things that reduce collisions, but it's rare that you get an opportunity on the design ground floor like we have with the Vikings here. We're talking about a lot of glass -- 200,000 square feet -- and we can take steps right from the beginning."

Martell says the glaze he wants builders to install on the stadium's exterior would "decrease the likelihood of birds flying into [the stadium] because birds can see it" without affecting aesthetics.

"Birds can't see glass in the same way we do," he adds. "Depending on how much of the surface was treated, we think [the cost] could be as low as $400,000, and you're talking about a building that's coming in at $1 billion."

But, as the release details, stadium developers recently canceled a meeting with Audubon officials, and Audubon staff were told on July 17 that developers won't pay for the glaze.

(For more, click to page two.)

A statement distributed by the MSFA yesterday afternoon defended the decision.

"We have agreed to the Audubon Society's operational approaches, including the 'Lights Out' guidelines," the MSFA statement says. "We have also taken into consideration the lighting design for the stadium, and where we are able, we will follow the Audubon's suggestions. We were able to adopt operational guidelines used by other downtown office and residential buildings, [but] we were unable to change the design and do not have the budget to include the $1.1 million needed for bird safe glass."

Martell says he hopes public pressure will persuade the MSFA and the Vikings to reconsider.

"This building is being funded with an awful lot of public money -- a pretty significant portion of the building's cost is public money -- and it's being used to put up a building that in our opinion is going ot kill a lot of birds," he says. "We want people to let the [MSFA] know that's not how they want public money spent."

Send your story tips to the author, Aaron Rupar. Follow him on Twitter @atrupar.

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