Birders worry about glassy new Vikings stadium design

Nashville warbler after window strike in downtown St. Paul

Football fans were reveling over the design of the new Vikings stadium this week, but bird watchers remain skeptical.

Glass, they say, kills birds. And it looks like there’s a LOT of glass on that new stadium.

The issue actually came up back in November, in a review of the stadium project’s proposed environmental impact statement “final scoping decision” document.

Then, Minnesota DNR Regional Environmental Assessment Ecologist Melissa Doperalski noted the potential for bird strikes at the new stadium: “The DNR would like to encourage project designers to consider bird friendly building designs that would help to reduce the potential for a bird collision to occur,” Doperalski wrote to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.

Is the new stadium design “bird friendly?”

That remains to be seen. As Tom Fisher, the dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota noted on Monday, the new stadium may have the largest transparent doors and roof in the world. It also seems to have another potentially dangerous feature for birds — glass on both ends of the building, offering the illusion that they can fly all the way through it.

Mark Martell, director of bird conservation with the Minnesota chapter of the Audubon Society, says the design certainly got his organization’s attention. “It’s an amazing structure,” he said. And it may pose a problem:

“We’ve been aware of the issue of bird collisions in urban areas for a number of years. In fact, we’re leading an effort to monitor that very thing in both downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul and to work with building owners and architects to find ways to reduce that. In the context that there’s a large structure going up near the Mississippi River, we are always looking for ways in which we could reduce the impact that would have on birds.”

But he also said that they hope to work with the architects and planners working on the stadium to come up with something that might minimize the danger to passing flyers. The Audubon Society actually has a 40-page guide for making buildings with glass more “bird safe.” Ideas include exterior shading and using pattered or translucent glass. Martell says Audubon would still like that to be part of the stadium design process.

“We know that birds don’t perceive glass in the same way we do. They didn’t evolve worrying about hitting glass in the middle of the prairie or the woods. It is something that we have to be concerned with, however, there’s been a lot of progress made on ways in which we can reduce the impact on birds, reduce the number of collisions, through a variety of techniques, and hopefully we’ll be able to present some of those ideas in the future.”

MSFA spokeswoman Jennifer Hathaway says the stadium authority is meeting with the Audubon society at the end month to discuss the matter. The DNR is currently reviewing the MSFA’s full Environmental Impact Statement, and is expecting to respond on the bird collision issue by the second week in June.