The lights of Philadelphia may be dimmed in the coming weeks as a coalition tries to prevent millions of migrating birds that pass through twice a year from slamming into skyscrapers and crashing to the sidewalk.
Bird Safe Philly on Thursday announced the Lights Out Philly initiative, a voluntary program in which as many external and internal lights in buildings are turned off or dimmed at night during the Spring and Autumn. The problem of artificial lights attracting birds to their deaths in the city isn’t new. “We have specimens in the academy’s ornithology collection from a kill that happened when lights were first installed on Philadelphia’s City Hall tower in 1896,” said Jason Weckstein, associate curator of ornithology at Drexel University’s Academy of Natural Sciences.
The coalition formed after the city’s largest mass-collision event in 70 years was reported last October. Hundreds of dead birds were found around the city. Birds navigate during migration using celestial cues and when they cannot see stars on a cloudy night they get confused by bright city lights, according to experts. Windows pose a problem, according to Weckstein, because birds might see a reflection of trees or the sky. Scientists estimate between 365 million and one billion birds are killed by collisions with buildings or other outdoor structures in the U.S. every year and those crashes are taking a toll on some species. Common yellowthroats, white-throated sparrows, gray catbirds and ovenbirds are the most common victims in Philadelphia, experts said, and those species are also threatened by climate change and other predators. The Lights Out Philly program runs from April 1 through May 31 and from August 15 to November 15. Property managers and tenants are asked to voluntarily switch off lights between midnight and 6 a.m., especially in a building’s upper levels, lobbies and atria. The Building Owners and Managers Association of Philadelphia, which represents over 475 members who own or manage commercial properties or provide services to buildings, said the response has been “extremely robust.”
“We have some early adopters and the list is approaching 20 buildings, many of which are iconic and very recognizable members of the Philadelphia skyline, such as One and Two Liberty Place, Comcast Technology Center and Comcast Center, Mellon Bank Building and all of Brandywine Realty Trust’s Center City and University City buildings,” said BOMA executive director Kristine Kiphorn. “We get to do our part in the community to help preserve the bird population, and we get to conserve energy at the same time, saving money for our tenants and our assets.”