Philadelphia at night before midnight - Sally Eisenberg
Have you ever seen a dead bird on the sidewalk when walking around the city? Many of these deaths are the result of birds colliding with buildings on their migration paths through Philadelphia. When birds are migrating during the nighttime, they can become distracted by the lights from the buildings below and end up crashing into the buildings, especially during periods of rain and/or fog. This is also an issue during the daytime, when birds are routinely deceived by transparent and reflective glass, and these daytime collisions can occur on one story buildings and low rises as well as on high rise buildings. And it happens more often than you may think! According to Bird Safe Philly, an estimated 365 million to 1 billion birds across America die from these collisions. This is the second killer of birds after feral and outdoor cats.
This is why Audubon Mid-Atlantic has partnered with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, as well as the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, the Valley Forge Audubon Society, and Wyncote Audubon Society in order to create an initiative called Bird Safe Philly. Lights Out Philly is a part of this initiative, and is a program where major buildings around the city (such as the Comcast Center, BNY Mellon Center, and Two Liberty Place)* that have signed up will turn off their lights at night time during the months when a majority of bird migrations pass through the Philadelphia region (from April to May and August to November). Although ideas for a Lights Out program in Philadelphia have been floating around for a while, it was finally created after a massive collision event back in October 2020, when monitors estimated that thousands of migratory birds flew into buildings throughout Center City. Philadelphia is not the only city with this type of program, around 40 other major cities across the United States have also initiated Lights Out programs to discourage birds from flying into buildings during migration.
*(The PECO building has not turned off its lights, but changed then to blue/green which is less attractive to migrating birds than all white)
Philadelphia with lights out - Sally Eisenberg
In addition to organizing Lights Out, Bird Safe Philly also involves a team of volunteer effort by Bird Safe Philly monitors, led by Keith Russell of Audubon MidAtlantic and volunteer Stephen Maciejewski, who walk portions of the city every morning to collect deceased birds across the city, log them onto data sheets and send them over to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, which has been collecting birds that have crashed into buildings as early as the 1890s. The specimens that are collected are preserved, and skin and tissue samples from their organs are also preserved for use in a variety of research, from the genetics of birds to research on the about bird parasites that infect them. These specimens are also housed in archival facilities that will allow them to be used for future research that we may not even know about right now. Specimens can be used by anyone conducting appropriate scientific research and they are also loaned out to artists for creating field guide illustrations.
Since the start of the program last year, there have been some major successes, for example the Philadelphia City Council passing a resolution in support of the Philadelphia Lights Out Initiative. In addition, there has been increased monitoring, expanding from the initial area in downtown Philadelphia. Monitoring is usually done between 5:30 to 8:00 am, to pick up dead bird specimens before street sweepers have the chance to throw birds in the trash, a common occurrence around the city.
This bird is a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) that died after crashing into a building in Philadelphia on October 22, 2020.
What can you do to help?
Despite the overall success of the Lights Out program, there is still a lot of work to be done on all levels, from government to corporate to individual! Reporting collisions, turning off lights at night, and talking to people about these issues are several ways you can help! https://www.birdsafephilly.org/get-involved has more ways that you can get involved and learn more about the programs that Bird Safe Philly is working on!
Special thank you to Keith Russell, Program Manager for Urban Conservation at Audubon Mid-Atlantic, Robert Peck, Curator of Art and Artifacts and Senior Fellow at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, and Jason Weckstein, an associate curator in the department of Ornithology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, for taking the time to talk to me about this issue and explain the work that they have been doing so far, as well as future plans to help prevent these collisions from happening!
Read and learn more about how you can help here:
Kummer, Frank. “Avian Disaster.” Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition, 10/8/2020, 10 Oct. 2018, digital.olivesoftware.com/Olive/ODN/PhiladelphiaInquirer/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=PHQP%2F2020%2F10%2F08&entity=Ar01703&sk=79A593CC&mode=text#.
Marsh, Shawn. “Philly to Dim Lights to Make It Safer for Birds in Flight.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 12 Mar. 2021, apnews.com/article/science-philadelphia-climate-change-birds-ae7b8dc52663edd720596445f76aa105.
Hauser, Christine. “Turn the Lights Out. Here Come the Birds.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Apr. 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/04/10/us/bird-migration-lights-out.html#click=t.co/tdkiwpXNIV.