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Fatal bird-building collisions: Metro Atlanta ranks in Top 10 in Spring, Fall

Bird building survivor

This ovenbird survived a collision with a building and will live on to share its distinctive song. Credit: Adam Beteul

By David Pendered

Despite efforts to halt the deaths, a new report puts metro Atlanta in the nation’s Top 10 for the number of birds that blinded by light pollution and fly to their death into buildings the Spring and Fall migration seasons.

Bird building survivor

This ovenbird survived a collision with a building and will live on to share its distinctive song. Credit: Adam Beteul

Atlanta ranks ninth in the nation for the number of bird death in the Spring migratory season. The city ranks fourth in the nation in the number of birds that crash to their death in the autumn migration, according to an April 1 report by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The three cities that rank as the Top 3 in each season are Chicago, Houston and Dallas, the report shows. The cities owe their position to the location in major flyways, according to Kyle Horton, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell lab. Horton said in a statement:

  • “Those three cities are uniquely positioned in the heart of North America’s most trafficked aerial corridors. This, in combination with being some of the largest cities in the U.S., makes them a serious threat to the passage of migrants, regardless of season.”

The study notes that one simple step to save birds’ lives is turning off or reducing exterior lighting at homes and commercial buildings. Collisions with residences account for about 250,000 of the estimated 600,000 million birds that die every year, according to the Cornell report.

Of note, the Cornell study is based on a series of data rather than a count of bird bodies. The full paper is behind a pay wall, and the abstract portrays the conclusions as the result of big data:

bird building collision, ruby throated hummingbird

The remains of this ruby-throated hummingbird were found after the bird evidently crashed into the building during a night flight. Credit: Adam Beteul

  • “We leveraged over two decades of remote‐sensing data collected by weather surveillance radar and satellite‐based sensors to identify locations and times of year when the highest numbers of migrating birds are exposed to light pollution in the contiguous US. Our continental‐scale quantification of light exposure provides a novel opportunity for dynamic and targeted conservation strategies to address the hazards posed by light pollution to nocturnally migrating birds.”

The Atlanta Audubon Society implemented its Lights Out Atlanta Program in 2017 to encourage a reduction in unnecessary exterior lighting during migration seasons – from March 15 to May 31, and Aug. 15 to Nov. 15.

The Lighst Out Atlanta Program sought to build on public interest raised by the count of birds that evidently died after crashing into buildings. Since 2015, volunteers with Atlanta Audubon have been collecting birds that were killed or injured after crashing into buildings.

More than1,200 birds representing 100 different species have been collected, the society reports.

Adam Betuel, Atlanta Audubon’s director of conservation, said the results of the Cornell’s study don’t come as a surprise:

  • “We were saddened, but not terribly surprised when we received a call from Cornell letting us know about this study and sharing that Atlanta ranks high in the number of bird-building collisions. The Atlantic flyway is a major migration path for many birds, and millions of birds pass through Atlanta each spring and fall on their way to and from wintering grounds in South and Central America.
  • “We hope to use this data to help us enact meaningful programs, like our Lights Out Atlanta Program, to reduce the number of collisions and educate the public about ways they can help.”


bird building collision, collection

Volunteers with the Atlanta Audubon Society gathered the remains of birds that died after they evidently crashed into buildings during flight. Credit: Adam Beteul

David Pendered

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.


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