Lights Out Programs: Protecting Bird Species from Flying into Buildings

Lights Out programs in cities around the country are saving bird species from running into buildings.

Rob Ripma

It’s become widely known that during migration, many bird species can become confused by city lights and can end up flying into buildings in their confusion. Birders and conservationists have come up with a program that has the potential to save millions or possibly even billions of birds every year by simply turning out the city lights – Lights Out.

Lights Out groups work with building owners and city officials to have exterior decorative lighting and non-essential internal lighting turned off during critical migration periods in their city. The initiative started in Toronto with the Fatal Light Awareness program and has spread to cities all over North America including such major metro areas as New York City and Chicago.

American Woodcock is one of the bird species that is found by Lights Out programs during the early part of spring migration.

American Woodcock is one of the bird species that is found by Lights Out programs during the early part of spring migration.

These programs are not only beneficial for the migrating birds but also for the building owners and tenants who can save thousands of dollars on energy costs by turning off these lights. While the solution seems simple, it can be very hard to convince building owners and city official to turn off the lights. Lights Out groups are working tirelessly to educate the decision makers showing them that both the birds and their pockets will benefit from the program.

Thrushes, like this Veery, are regularly found by Light Out volunteers.

Thrushes, like this Veery, are regularly found by Light Out volunteers.

Lights Out programs also help to monitor which bird species are becoming injured or are killed by flying into buildings. Volunteers patrol the city streets during the early morning hours looking for injured and dead birds before predators or cleaning crews remove the birds. Sometimes, even rare bird species have been found by these volunteers! In Indianapolis, a volunteer came across a Yellow Rail that had become disoriented and landed in the city. Luckily, it was rescued and released outside of Indy in a safe location.

If your city has a Lights Out program, I highly encourage you to consider volunteering to help with the project and if not, maybe you could even start your own!

  1. Marlene Van Wingerden says

    I agree with Gary that this is very insightful. How about a Wind Farm Out program? The blades are killing migrating birds and endangered species. There was suppose to be prosecution for this but the government is not following through with another promise. In fact Harry Reid and son Rory want the Bundy Ranch in Nevada to build a wind farm in the area with Chinese energy giant ENN Energy Group.

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