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A city in the United States will turn off the lights of all its buildings to save the birds

A view of the illuminated skyscrapers of Philadelphia, on the east coast of the United States (Shutterstock.com)
A view of the illuminated skyscrapers of Philadelphia, on the east coast of the United States (Shutterstock.com)

This will be the first year that Philadelphia will turn off all the lights in its buildings at night in an effort to prevent the mass deaths of migrant birds that pass through the city between the spring and fall seasons.

This event is the result of a commitment by the city and the owners of the buildings that was achieved thanks to more than 15 years of work by various animal organizations such as Audubon Mid-Atlantic whose work seeks to raise awareness of the problem it represents for birds. tall buildings in cities.

Bird deaths resulting from collisions with buildings are nothing new. The seemingly clear flight paths seen through building windows, reflections from trees and other potential habitats, and the lure of bright and confusing lights during night migration contribute to a shocking number of construction accidents. bird’s. Researchers estimate that building collisions cause up to 1 billion bird deaths annually in the United States, making a very strong argument for why buildings and cities should be designed with birds in mind.

But the problem, which usually goes unnoticed, became more than evident in October of last year when in a single night more than 1,000 birds crashed and died against the windows of the tallest buildings in downtown Philadelphia.

Philadelphia is one of the large cities in the United States that is in the middle of the bi-annual migrant bird route.  (Jessica Griffin / The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
Philadelphia is one of the large cities in the United States that is in the middle of the bi-annual migrant bird route. (Jessica Griffin / The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

This was attributed to an unusual convergence of factors, such as the semi-annual migration period, bad weather and the abundance of lights left on inside tall buildings at night, which disoriented the animals and contributed to their death.

“There were hundreds of birds everywhere. It was like nothing we had ever experienced “says Keith Russell, urban conservation program manager at Audubon Mid-Atlantic, the regional office of the national bird-focused nonprofit.

This group has been asking building owners since 2006 to do something to help prevent these deaths but only until last year, when the city woke up to thousands of bird carcasses in the streets, did they get their attention.

“There was a lot of learning and a lot of awareness that came from that,” dice Russell.

Birds fly over the Philadelphia sky.  Matt Rourke / AP
Birds fly over the Philadelphia sky. Matt Rourke / AP

Thanks to that, they managed to start the implementation of the “Lights Out Philly” initiative this year, which will take place from April 1 to May 31 and again from August 15 to November 15 , dates when building owners and managers are asked to turn off, dim or block lights inside buildings that are normally left on at night.

It also requires non-essential lights, such as those that illuminate building signs or sponsor logos, be turned off or changed to green or blue colors that are less likely to attract birds than red or white. For these biannual migration periods, turning off the lights can help reduce the potentially deadly appeal and distraction of buildings, keeping the tens of millions of birds that travel through Philadelphia along the Atlantic Route on their route. Of flight.

The initiative is supported by the City of Philadelphia Office of Sustainability and has received pledges from more than a dozen large building owners, the Philadelphia Building Owners and Managers Association, and the Construction Industry Association. from Philadelphia. By turning off the lights, building owners can save bird life while saving on energy costs. “This is good for the environment in more ways than one. “, dice Russell.

Audubon Mid-Atlantic has already begun monitoring the effectiveness of the program, with seven volunteers touring the city center from 5:30 am until the end of May.

Some of the birds killed during October last year in Philadelphia.
Some of the birds killed during October last year in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia joins 33 other cities in the United States that have their own Lights Out programs, including New York, Atlanta, and Chicago, which has had the program since 1999. But he has also made other efforts to reduce the risk to birds in the city., including the installation of glass marked with small patterns that deter birds.

Nonetheless, Russell says that during migration periods, turning off the lights is crucial, especially in Philadelphia, which is one of the few major cities on the Atlantic Airway and the site of the most significant mass collision event in recent memory. .

“Although glass is a big problem, lights are the main reason we have massive collision events,” dice Russell. “There have been a couple of those recorded in the city in the past, and there have also been deaths from mass collisions across the country in other cities. And they are always associated with lights ”.

Although the city center is where most bird deaths occur, its tall buildings and night lights are not the only culprits. Russell says buildings across the city should consider committing to joining the Lights Out Philly effort, during periods of migration and beyond.

“This program also asks people who live in low-rise buildings and single-family homes to participate,” he says. “That can be very useful to do this during the migration, but ultimately, if they extended it throughout the year, it would be even better.”

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