New York State turns off lights for birds

The New York State Capitol in Albany. Photo by Tyler McCall (Creative Commons)
The New York State Capitol in Albany. Photo by Tyler McCall (Creative Commons)

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Monday, April 27, that buildings owned and managed by the state will turn off non-essential outdoor lighting from 11 p.m. to dawn during peak migration in spring and fall: from April 15 through May 31, and from August 15 through November 15.

By participating in the National Audubon Society’s Lights Out Initiative, the state aims to reduce sources of light pollution that disrupt and disorient birds, the governor said.

“This is a simple step to help protect these migrating birds that make their home in New York’s forests, lakes, and rivers,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo also launched a new website, I Love NY Birding, to promote birdwatching and provide checklists, citizen-science information, and more.

Ruby-throated-Hummingbird-1-by-Bill-Stripling-350
Ruby-throated Hummingbird breeds in New York. Photo by Bill Stripling, courtesy of National Audubon Society

Many species, including shorebirds and songbirds, rely on constellations to help them navigate to and from their summer breeding grounds. Excessive outdoor lighting, especially in adverse weather conditions, can cause the birds to become disoriented, a phenomenon known as fatal light attraction.

Between 365 and 988 million birds are killed annually in building collisions in the United States, say researchers Scott R. Loss, Sara S. Loss, and Peter P. Marra of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and Tom Will of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Migratory Birds.

In February 2014, the scientists published a systematic review of published studies and unpublished collision-monitoring datasets, concluding “that building collision mortality is one of the top sources of direct anthropogenic mortality of birds in the U.S.”

“Among other national estimates that are data-driven and systematically derived, only predation by free-ranging domestic cats is estimated to cause a greater amount of mortality,” they wrote.

Read more about the 2014 building-collision study.

In recent years, New York City Audubon has enlisted many buildings, including the iconic Rockefeller Center, Chrysler Building, and Time Warner Center, to reduce their outdoor lighting. As part of the state’s new initiative, agencies will also be encouraged to draw blinds when possible and turn off non-essential indoor lighting during Lights Out times.

“Audubon commends Governor Cuomo for his leadership in launching these new initiatives to protect migrating birds and showcase the spectacular birdwatching opportunities throughout New York,” said Erin Crotty, executive director of Audubon New York. “With spring migration underway, the state’s commitment to Lights Out is an important step to increase their protection.”

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