Design, New York, Planet, Wildlife
At least 90,000 birds are killed every year in New York City by colliding with glass in buildings as they migrate to and from their breeding grounds. Many fly at night and are disoriented by illuminated buildings and structures; bright light interferes with their natural navigational cues. To help mitigate this critical problem for birds, New York City Audubon is encouraging New Yorkers to participate in Lights Out New York. From September 1st to November 1st, midnight until dawn, they urge everyone to turn off the lights in city building to save birds and save energy.
Urban Green Council’s Rachel Schuder recently spoke with Dr. Susan Elbin, Director of Conservation and Science at New York City Audubon about Lights Out New York:
Rachel Schuder: Why should someone interested in green building care about this issue? Is it a really a big problem?
Susan Elbin: Being a green building is not just about being resource efficient in terms of energy consumption and construction, although Lights Out New York certainly does curb energy use. Being truly green is about taking a holistic approach to our environment, and part of that is conservation of wildlife. When manmade structures impede the ability of migratory birds to safely pass through or over our city, it is our responsibility to correct the problem. Turning lights out is an easy solution that really does help.
And yes, the problem is a huge. New York City Audubon’s data indicate that 90,000 birds are killed every year from colliding with glass—a number that we know is underestimated.
RS: How does turning off interior building lights at night help migrating birds? Aren’t birds more likely to collide with a building they can’t see?
SE: Migratory birds traveling at night are drawn to lighted areas, a phenomenon known as the beacon effect. Combined light emissions from city buildings produce an urban glow, like you see in nighttime photographs from space. Light disorients birds. It diverts them from their migratory path, brings them lower in the skies, and can cause them to use precious energy. Because most birds actually migrate at night, you can imagine the magnitude of the problem! Birds may collide with lighted windows at night or window reflections during the day.
Once these night fliers come in for a landing and begin to look for food and shelter, they face the daytime hazards of glass: reflections of trees in windows and false passages through glassed-in courtyards and indoor plantings confuse birds and cause them to collide with glass.