Lights Out! Chicago

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Chicago’s skyline. Photo is used with Creative Commons license.

Lights at the top of tall buildings are a huge issue for birds. As I explained in a previous post:

Most migratory birds migrate at night because they rely on the sight of the Earth’s magnetic field lines, the sun and other stars, and the moon. Night lighting used in dense urban areas obscures these navigational aides and confuses the birds. Birds are instinctively attracted to the lights and may circle the air for hours around beams of light until striking a building or dropping from the sky in exhaustion.

Video documenting an example of circling birds at the World Trade Center memorial provides a sobering display of confused birds. Birds will circle until they drop from exhaustion and die, and the ones who survive often find themselves in a maze of glass in the morning and vulnerable to window strikes.

Perimeter rooms also become an issue because migratory birds fly at night and by the morning, they require rest, shelter, and food. Lighted glass may illuminate fountains, trees, and other “natural” habitats for birds attracting them towards a collision with glass. People have to be taught to “see” glass and indeed sometimes do not see the glass at all themselves such as at Apple’s new building in San Francisco where people have required stitches after walking into glass panels and doors.

Lights Out! Chicago is a program dedicated to protecting migratory birds by urging consistent compliance with the voluntary directive to reduce the amount of light emitted from downtown and lakefront buildings during spring and fall migration seasons. Modeled after Toronto’s F.L.A.P. program, Lights Out! Chicago promotes the following actions after 11 p.m. on buildings taller than 40 stories (or over 20 stories if there are no other buildings in the immediate surrounding area):

  1. Extinguish or dim exterior or decorative lighting, including spotlights, logos, lighted clock faces, greenhouses, antennae lighting, etc.;
  2. Extinguish or dim the maximum amount of lobby lighting possible;
  3. Minimize the lights in perimeter rooms at all levels of the building by dimming lights and drawing blinds or curtains;
  4. Use motion-sensitive lighting;
  5. Use lower-intensity lighting;
  6. Use light fixtures outside that direct light down where it is needed instead of horizontally or upward;
  7. Use desk lamps or task lighting for security desks rather than overhead lights;
  8. Schedule cleaning crews to work during daylight or early evening hours instead of after 11 p.m.;
  9. Avoid illuminating interior plants or fountains that could attract birds; and
  10. Use timers to ensure that light is only used when needed, if at all.*

There are other benefits to turning off the lights besides saving migratory birds. Turning off the lights saves energy. It also saves the City and private building owners a lot of money. More surprising to me is the research showing correlations between brightness in the environment and increased incidents of disease in human beings. This includes sleep disorders, mental disorders, metabolic diseases, and even cancer. There is also evidence that increased outdoor lighting may actually increase crime as evidenced by Chicago study from 2000 (as a side note, this is a hotly debated topic and causation was not proven by this study).

Please join fellow bird (and human) lovers in supporting Lights Out! Chicago or the program in your nearest metropolis.

*List compiled from Lights Out! Chicago and City of Chicago sites.

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