Turning off building lights reduces bird window-kill by 83%
Field Museum scientists release data from two-year study
CHICAGO--New data never before published reveals that turning off building
lights in a major city could save thousands of migratory birds a day.
"For the first time, we now have numbers to back up scientists' claims
that turning off building lights during migration season is an effective
way to reduce the number of birds who kill themselves by flying into
buildings," says Doug Stotz, PhD, a conservation ecologist at The
During 2000 and 2001, Stotz and his colleagues counted dead birds around
McCormick Place every day during the migration seasons--from late March to
the end of May and from mid-August to Thanksgiving. Half of the vertical
surface of the huge, lakefront building is glass, and lights in the
building seem to disorient migrating birds, which typically navigate by
Turning lights off at McCormick Place reduced the number of dead birds
by up to 88%, depending on lighting conditions and window location. For
all the days counted, 1, 297 birds died from hitting lit windows while
only 192 birds died from hitting dark windows (either because the lights
were out or heavy drapes were drawn). After adjusting for the variance
in lit versus dark windows, the overall reduction was 83%.
"That's an incredible savings from just one building," Stotz
says. "Imagine what we could accomplish if the drive to turn off lights
during migration season spread to include most downtown buildings."
The City of Chicago is working toward that very goal. In 2000, Chicago
and the U.S. Department of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service signed
the Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds. Ever since, the city
has been asking downtown buildings to dim or shut off their lights in
the spring and fall.
Field Museum scientists have been checking for dead birds at the base
of McCormick Place since 1978. Over the years, they have collected
29,842 birds of 140 species. The most common window casualty was the
song sparrow, Metospiza melodia. The Chicago Ornithological Society
estimates that 100 million to 1 billion birds die annually by colliding
with buildings in the U.S. alone.
Canada is ahead of the U.S. in studying and preventing bird-building
collisions. Michael Mesure, executive director of the Fatal Light
Awareness Program in Toronto, will speak at The Field Museum on the causes
and solutions to this problem on May 20. The 7 p.m. lecture is part of
COS' monthly meeting. Mesure will outline his experiences working with
building managers, architects, window manufacturers and public officials
to reduce night lighting problems and window kill.
Most common window casualties
at McCormick Place
Song Sparrow 3968
Dark-eyed Junco 3393
Swamp Sparrow 2987
White-throated Sparrow 2257
Hermit Thrush 1322
Fox Sparrow 1165
Oven Bird 1154
American Tree Sparrow 986
Lincoln's Sparrow 915
Tennessee Warbler 871
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