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Philadelphia, Fort Worth establish Lights Out programs

Lights Out
Casualties of an October 2020 mass collision event in Philadelphia included Black-throated Blue Warblers, Gray Catbird, Wood Thrush, Ovenbird, and other species. Photo by Stephen Maciejewski

Two more American cities — Philadelphia and Fort Worth — have pledged to turn off the lights to help migratory birds.

A mass collision event in October 2020 that killed hundreds of birds in Philadelphia sparked nonprofits and the city government to form Bird Safe Philly, a coalition of nonprofits, to help mitigate the problem.

The voluntary program, announced last week, involves turning off or blocking as many external and internal building lights as possible at night during migration seasons when birds are passing through the city by the millions.

The first season of Lights Out Philly launches April 1, at the start of peak spring migration and runs through May 31, when most winged migrants will have passed through the city. In the fall, Lights Out Philly and peak migration will occur between August 15 and November 15 as birds travel south. 

Lights Out Philly is the result of a collaborative effort led by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, Audubon Mid-Atlantic, and two local Audubon Society chapters — Valley Forge and Wyncote. In addition to the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability, the Bird Safe Philly initiative is endorsed by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) Philadelphia and the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia.

Comcast, which owns the two tallest buildings in the city, and Brandywine Realty Trust, the city’s largest landlord, and a dozen other building operators/owners also have pledged their support of the effort.

“We are heartened by all the efforts in our community to join together in this critical initiative to save so many birds from unnecessary harm and even death,” said Scott Cooper, president and CEO of the Academy of Natural Sciences. “A simple thing like turning out lights can help thousands of birds safely navigate our challenging urban environment.”

‘Nobody wants to kill migratory birds’

In Fort Worth, environmental leaders, with the help of former First Lady Laura Bush, convinced city officials to turn down the city’s lights. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports:

“Throughout the spring and fall migration periods, the city’s skyline will dim between midnight and 6 a.m., making Fort Worth the first major Texas city to sign on to the Lights Out campaign for the full season, said Julia Wang, project leader at the Cornell Lab. Eleven buildings, including the Bank of America Tower, Pier 1 Building, and the Trinity Terrace, began turning off lights on March 8 and will continue through May 31. The fall migration period will last between August 15 and November 30, when more than 1 billion birds travel through Texas on a superhighway moving south.”

“All of the pieces of the puzzle came together for Fort Worth to participate,” said Andy Taft, the president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., which partnered with city officials on Lights Out. “Nobody wants to kill migratory birds, and if the science is suggesting that there is something that we can do about it, and it is as easy as this, then why not try? Why not be a part of this?”

More than 30 other cities have Lights Out programs, including New York, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. The National Audubon Society, along with partners, established the first Lights Out program in 1999 in Chicago.

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