Turn off unnecessary outdoor lighting to reduce bird deaths: ATL Audubon Society

By David Pendered

Participants in Atlanta’s Better Building Challenge have partnered with the Atlanta Audubon Society in an effort to reduce bird deaths and power bills during the spring migration season.

atlanta lights out campaign poster

The Atlanta Audubon Society has partnered with participants in Atlanta’s Better Building Challenge to turn off unnecessary nighttime lighting in order to reduce the number of birds killed or injured when they fly toward bright lights. Credit: Atlanta Audubon Society

Named “Lights Out, Atlanta,” the program intends to reduce the number of birds killed or injured when they fly into buildings. The program is open to residences as well as commercial properties.

The Atlanta Audubon Society has evaluated bird deaths or injuries due to collisions for two years. More than 500 birds of 70 different species have been collected.

Nationwide, an estimated 350 million to 1 billion birds die in the United States after colliding with buildings, according to a statement from the Atlanta Audubon Society.

The ABBC participants are natural partners because they have already agreed to reduce their consumption of electricity, partly by reducing power used for illumination. More than 590 buildings within the city limits of Atlanta participate in the ABBC.

Participants in “Lights Out, Atlanta” pledge to reduce non-essential lighting from midnight to dawn during the peak spring migration period, from March 15 to May 31. The program resumes during the autumnal migration, from Aug. 15 to Nov. 15.

birds killed in collisions

A sample of birds that died after colliding with buildings in Atlanta and were collected by the Atlanta Audubon Society. Credit: Adam Betuel

The pledge is available on this page of the Atlanta Audubon’s website.

The program seeks to reduce the confusion that nighttime illumination creates for migrating birds. They face a potential double whammy.

For starters, birds prefer to migrate at night to reduce their exposure to predators and to exert themselves at cooler hours of the day, according to a statement from the Atlanta Aububon Society.

In addition, because birds navigate at night by natural bodies, the stars and moon, the artificial lights harm them rather than help light their way. Birds fly toward bright lights, rather than away form them.

Here’s how Adam Betuel, conservation director for the Atlanta Audubon Society, describes the situation:

  • “Birds tend to migrate at night in order to avoid predators and to take advantage of the cooler temperatures. Artificial nighttime lighting can be a major obstacle for migrating birds since they use the moon, stars, and magnetism from the earth for guidance.

    This hairy woodpecker died after colliding with a building in Atlanta. Credit: Adam Betuel

    This hairy woodpecker died after colliding with a building in Atlanta. Credit: Adam Betuel

  • “The nighttime lighting from houses and buildings can disorient birds, who then crash into buildings or become trapped in beams of lights causing them to die of exhaustion. Atlanta Audubon encourages building and homeowner to join this effort to make Atlanta a more bird-friendly community.”

Participants in the Better Buildings Challenge are natural partners because they already have agreed to reduce the amount of electricity they consume. The target is a 20 percent reduction by 2020, using 2010 as the base year.

According to a report on the ABBC’s website, Atlanta leads the nation in the amount of total square footage that is enrolled in the program. More than 111 million square feet is enrolled, representing more than 590 buildings.

The ABBC was started in June 2011 at the Clinton Global Initiative as one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Building Challenge Program.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

4 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    Please precisely define what is essential lighting.
    Birds fly into windows at my home during the day, but never at night. And I do not keep my home dark at night.Report

    Reply
  2. Melanie Pollard says:

    I would love to see light pollution codification throughout the ATL region. There is no need to have outward focused lights in addition to the street lights. Over the last 10 years, we have experienced enormous light pollution in our neighborhood with cast shadows on the lawn and terrace at night. And with the clear cut trees, we have noise pollution, stormwater problems and yes, fewer birds. Very sad for Atlanta to lose the thing that made us so great- our trees.Report

    Reply
  3. Chris Parrish says:

    There are waay too many lights on in the city. I love streets that have no streetlights. Flood lights, landscape lights, not to mention the idiots who put lights high up in their trees.Report

    Reply

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