Bird Act turns off lights on city-owned buildings in an attempt to save feathered friends

Rita McMahon sees carnage fall from the sky.

Each year, approximately 1,000 injured birds are brought to the Wild Bird Fund, the Manhattan-based rehabilitation center she runs. Many arrive with double concussions, hitting buildings first and then falling to the sidewalk.

Some also suffer from hypothermia from the shock of the cold ground. Many suffer from internal injuries. Most are quite young.

Of all the birds that McMahon’s organization treats, only about a third live.

“These are the lucky birds that we find, put in someone’s pocket or in a paper bag and are brought to us. These are the lucky few, ”said McMahon. “They’ve been flying here for eons, and over the past 200 years we’ve made quite an obstacle course for them. It’s a challenge they have to go through.

New York City is now working to prevent such collisions, one of the leading causes of bird deaths in urban areas.

Legislation recently passed by city council will require city-owned buildings to turn off lights at night, which will save electricity and remove some of the visual pollution that attracts and disturbs browsing birds. in the big city.

Coupled with a law that came into effect in January requiring new buildings to incorporate bird-friendly designs – including simple window decals to warn them of glass towers – bird advocates hope the council’s measures will do a difference as a result of climate-related threats. to our feathered friends.

“This will protect many birds that pass through town at night,” said Andrew Farnsworth, senior associate researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He expects to see reductions in bird collisions right away.

Now, defenders are ready to push for more protections in the New Year.

Threats of light and glass

New York City is located on the Atlantic Flyway, one of the four major migration routes in North America and the only one on the east coast. The New York City Audubon estimates that between 90,000 and 230,000 birds die each year after colliding with buildings in the five boroughs.

Artificial lighting contributes to these deaths by attracting birds to the city and disorienting those who migrate at night. According to Audubon’s research, the amount of light a building emits is a “strong predictor” of the number of bird collisions that will occur. Reducing lighting, as the two recently passed bills aim to do, can reduce the number of birds attracted to dangerous urban areas.

A bill requires buildings belonging to the city to turn off lights at night and until the wee hours of the morning during the peak migratory season, between mid-August and mid-November as well as between April and the end of May. The measure also applies to buildings of which the City does not own but which is the only tenant.

From 2023 and through 2030, the city must install occupancy sensors at its properties to ensure that the lights are only on when people are inside, thanks to the second bill that was adopted. The council’s finance division estimated that installations of about 17,000 city-owned properties would cost a total of $ 3.4 million, but could result in lower utility bills due to energy savings.

The bills, which will become law in mid-January unless the mayor signs them or veto them first, mark the latest steps to help save the city’s birds. A spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams did not respond to a request for comment.

Another municipal law came into effect in January that requires all construction and major alterations to include bird-safe materials and designs on facades under 75 feet so birds can avoid hitting windows and doors. glass walls.

“When I started New York City Audubon as an intern in 2013, it was inconceivable to me back then that we would ever have passed legislation to tackle collisions, and now we’ve tackled both the light and glass quite significantly. “said Kaitlyn Parkins, acting director of conservation and science at the New York City Audubon.

“We can save thousands”

Recent legislation passed by the city paves the way for stricter measures that cover more buildings, advocates say.

This year, they will push the Council to launch a bill to extend the policy of extinguishing fires to certain private buildings. The measure was blocked in committee this year after groups like the Real Estate Board of New York opposed it, raising safety concerns for commercial and residential buildings, among others.

At the state level, Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Assembly Member Patricia Fahy (D-Albany) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would require exterior lights to be turned off or set to shine only towards the sky. low between 11pm and sunrise.

Inspired by the 226 dead birds A volunteer gathered outside the World Trade Center in September, Manhattan’s Community Board 1 passed a resolution in November to encourage building and property owners to use strategies to mitigate bird strikes.

The resolution also called on the Alliance for Downtown New York to educate building owners about threats to birds and how to counter them.

A bird flies near the glass towers at the northwest corner of Bryant Park, October 1, 2019.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

The board is in the process of connecting the organization “with experts who will help us make recommendations for our local owners,” said Elizabeth Lutz, spokesperson for the Alliance. “We will share this information with them at the start of the New Year. “

The Audubon Company runs a voluntary “Lights Out” initiative that calls for buildings to be dark from midnight to dawn during the migration season. While opposing the Board’s proposed mandate, REBNY said it encourages its members to participate.

The Audubon Society is also working with building owners to improve their facades and turn off lights when the organization observes a pattern of bird strikes near certain properties. Sometimes owners also seek advice when they notice collisions, Parkins said.

The bird collision problem provides an opportunity for everyone to take easy steps to help solve it. The public can submit reports of dead and injured birds to the Audubon through its tracker. And tenants can turn off lights during peak migration season, use blinds when lights are on, and install decals or screens on windows to help prevent bird strikes.

“It’s something in our power,” McMahon said. “We can make a difference now in no time if we address these concerns and we can save thousands of lives. “

Timing is everything

Saving the beak is a top priority for longtime bird watchers and those interested in the pandemic as they sought refuge in the wild, especially as the existential threats to the birds are felt.

Birds have declined by nearly a third nationwide over the past 50 years for a number of reasons, including habitat loss, which is being fueled by housing development and climate change.

“Peak migration dates are getting earlier as temperatures rise across the country,” Farnsworth said.

A pigeon perches on a building on Thompson Street near Washington Square Park.  December 21, 2021.

A pigeon perches on a building on Thompson Street near Washington Square Park. December 21, 2021.
Hiram Alejandro Durán / THE CITY

The staggered timing of migration and the possible lack of food availability – due to global warming – have “a potential for population collapse and the system is starting to collapse,” he said. added.

Even for those whose only thought for birds is to hunt pigeons, scientists argue that it is in the best interests of all humans to preserve these populations.

From pollinating plants and dropping seeds in fire-ravaged areas, to eating insects that bring disease and destroy forests, birds keep the planet healthy and contribute “billions and billions of dollars to agriculture,” said Christine Sheppard, bird strike campaign manager at American Bird Conservation.

“Birds provide services that we cannot replace.”

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