Judge: Madison bird-safe glass ordinance legal | Local Government

A Madison ordinance designed to keep birds from flying into windows is legal, according to a Dane County court.

Judge Nia Trammell ruled Tuesday in favor of the city, rejecting a challenge by real estate, development and construction groups that argued it would increase construction costs, discourage investment and set “a dangerous precedent.”

The ordinance, adopted in 2020, requires that buildings over 10,000 square feet and other large structures include safety features — such as dots, lines or other patterns — in some windows to reduce the risk of birds colliding with the glass.

The groups, represented by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, sued the city last year, claiming the ordinance runs afoul of a 2014 state law that prevents cities from adopting building safety requirements that go beyond the minimum standards adopted by the Department of Safety and Professional Services.

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Trammell ruled the ordinance “is no different than ordinances dictating setback lines, building envelope standards, or minimum square footage” — and is similar to regulating materials used in building façades.

The ordinance does not require any specific materials or treatments, instead offering a variety of options, such as screens, shades or even stickers applied to large glass surfaces, which can look to a bird like open sky.

Judge Nia Trammell


“These requirements are far from resembling building codes,” Trammell wrote. “They have nothing to do with the stated purpose of the Commercial Code or the incorporated IBC provisions, which set minimum standards to ensure that buildings are safe and structurally sound for the people who use and occupy them.”

WILL attorney Lucas Vebber said the group was disappointed in the decision and plans to appeal. 

A spokesperson for the city did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dead birds

A sample of birds killed by collisions with glass collected by the Madison Audubon Society during a six-week survey of 11 buildings in 2018.

According to the American Bird Conservancy, collisions with buildings are the second-leading human-caused source of bird mortality after house cats. A 2014 study found building strikes kill about 600 million birds each year in the United States alone, although the bird conservancy estimates the true number could be closer to 1 billion.

Matt Reetz, executive director of Madison Audubon, called the ruling “great news” for birds and people alike.

“This is wonderful news for Wisconsin’s amazing birds that will be better protected thanks to the ordinance and others like it,” Reetz said. “It’s also wonderful news for Wisconsinites — for those who deeply enjoy birds but also for all of us who benefit from birds in so many important ways.”