The Invisible Cabin: A Deadly Illusion for Birds

Environmentally conscious would-be vacationers are being misled by false promises. Clever marketers paint an irresistible picture of a novel and eco-friendly retreat. “Come immerse yourself in nature!” they say. In the middle of an unspoiled forest, you can stay in a supposedly ‘green’ cabin, which, with its mirrored exterior, is specifically designed to camouflage perfectly with the surrounding forest. But this concept of a ‘green’ retreat is a literal illusion.

For the unassuming birds that call these forests home, this type of structure is a recipe for disaster. Birds can’t see glass. To them, the vegetation reflected on the building looks just as inviting as the real thing. Collisions with buildings are a leading cause of bird death, claiming the lives of millions of birds in Canada alone each year.

Just a few of the birds killed by buildings in Toronto in a single year. Photo: Alan Li

Alarmingly, mirrored cabins are a growing trend across the world. With their highly reflective exteriors mirroring natural habitat, these types of structures possess the worst possible design features for bird-window collisions. Placing these deadly structures in pristine bird habitat and calling them ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’ is absurd. Sadly, even in areas that have bird-safe building guidelines or standards, structures like this are often exempt or overlooked from having to address the threat of bird-window collisions due to their size or portable nature.

First and foremost, FLAP Canada advocates designing buildings with birds in mind, not simply as an afterthought when a completely foreseeable issue has been witnessed firsthand. Architects and engineers (especially those who tout themselves as environmentally conscious) need to abandon the use of highly polished materials known to harm birds in their designs, while following scientifically supported best-practices for bird-safe buildings, such as the Canadian Standard Association’s Bird-Friendly Building Design standard A460:19. Although retrofitting these structures with proven bird collision deterrents can make a horrible situation slightly less bad, these structures still have the potential to harm countless birds. The truth is that mirrored cubes have no place in our forests, or anywhere for that matter.

Would-be consumers have a key role to play in quashing this worrying trend before it continues to grow. Do not legitimize and stoke demand for these vacation spots by booking your vacation there. Tell your friends and family to do the same. Reach out to the companies advertising these cabins, saying that you will not support green-washed projects that will kill countless birds. Ask them to commit to designing future structures with birds in mind, following proven bird-safe best-practices. Together, we must speak up for birds since they cannot speak for themselves. Our collective voices and actions can show that the clever marketing behind these allegedly ‘eco-friendly’ retreats will not fool consumers.

Architects and engineers routinely demonstrate their creativity by creating eye-catching concepts that push the envelope. Our hope is that they will soon realize that no building is truly green unless it is also bird-safe. We look forward to seeing what these innovators can produce to legitimately protect wildlife and live up to their marketing claims. Please join us in making this a reality.