Bird Safe Philly Kicks Off Fall Migration

Fall bird migration is underway, and millions of birds are beginning to reach Philadelphia as they head south for the winter, newly hatched young embarking on their first migration. Bird Safe Philly is asking Lights Out Philly participants — and everyone — to turn off or block non-essential lights from midnight to 6:00 a.m. from August 15 to November 15 to protect migratory birds traveling along the Atlantic Flyway.

“Birds like the Common Yellowthroat just endured a challenging nesting season as the impacts of climate-related events like heat waves and wildfires continue to make it more difficult to survive. As yellowthroats and other nocturnal migrants travel thousands of miles to their wintering grounds, we can make it safer for the birds that migrate through our city by minimizing the amount of bright artificial lights they are exposed to while they are migrating at night,” said Keith Russell, urban conservation program manager at Audubon Mid-Atlantic. “We were inspired by the support that Lights Out Philly received this spring, and we encourage everyone, from building managers to small businesses and homeowners, to once again turn off, block, or dim artificial lights at night and around dawn.”

Since the launch of Lights Out Philly in spring 2021, the Philadelphia community came together in a remarkable way to protect birds. The program now has 36 commercial buildings, 43 residential sign-ups, and six municipal buildings that have agreed to voluntarily switch off unnecessary lights between midnight and 6 a.m. during migration seasons, especially in a building’s upper levels, lobby and atrium.

Philadelphia skyline on a regular spring night (above) and with fewer lights blazing (below) during spring bird migration, thanks to Lights Out Philadelphia and Bird Safe Philly. Photos by Victoria Sindlinger/Audubon

“Bird Safe Philly’s spring migration Lights Out was a resounding success with significant participation from building owners and managers and continued data collection on collisions through the coalition’s collision monitoring program. However, during fall migration, numbers of migrating birds are even higher because young birds born during the summer are making their way south in epic and dangerous migratory flights for the first time,” said Jason Weckstein, PhD, curator of Ornithology, Academy of Natural Science of Drexel University. “Under normal circumstances, mortality of these young first-time travelers is high. I am excited that our city is doing the right thing and minimizing the barriers to these birds heading south to their wintering grounds.”

Community science is underway to assess the impact of Lights Out Philly using collision monitoring. This data collection, led by Audubon Mid-Atlantic, involves daily monitoring by volunteers searching for, identifying, and counting killed or injured birds that have collided with buildings in a particular area. While the long-term impact of Lights Out Philly is not yet known and each city’s circumstances result in varying degrees of impact, a similar program in Chicago – the first Lights Out city in the nation – has reported saving 10,000 birds annually as well as decreasing energy usage and building maintenance costs. “Lights Out is helping Philadelphia be more energy efficient and wildlife friendly,” said Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At-Large). “As Chair of the Committee on the Environment, I was thrilled to support, along with my colleague Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, the creation of a Lights Out initiative in Philadelphia. We need these simple, efficient and effective programs to help us keep birds safe. I urge all Philadelphians to participate in this program!”

Reminder at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange. Photo by Steve Maciejewski/Audubon

“The City is on its way to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, and reducing energy usage is one step in a suite of solutions to lowering carbon emissions. We’re proud to support Lights Out Philly to not only make our city safer for millions of birds, but to also make strides toward becoming a carbon neutral city for us all,” said Christine Knapp, director of Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability.

“PECO’s iconic Crown Lights messaging system continues to educate our community on important topics and events and will be used to communicate the importance of Lights Out Philly. In addition, to reduce bird deaths, our Crown Lights will feature animation as well as adjusted brightness to reduce the attractiveness to birds,” said Amy Hamilton, vice president of support services at PECO. “Anyone can participate in Lights Out Philly – residents, businesses, and municipalities – and PECO is proud to be an early participant in the initiative to protect migratory birds as they navigate Philadelphia’s night sky.”

A downtown Philly street scene in October 2020. Photo by Steve Maciejewski/Audubon

Lights Out Philly is an initiative of Bird Safe Philly, a coalition 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. The collaborative joined forces following a mass collision event in October 2020 where more than 1,000 migrating birds collided with buildings within a small area in downtown Philadelphia.

Early partners and continued supporters of the inaugural season of Lights Out Philly include: Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) Philadelphia and nearly 40 BOMA Member Buildings, the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia, and PECO. Find a full list of buildings and participants that have pledged support here.

Learn more about Lights Out Philly and sign up to participate here: https://www.birdsafephilly.org/lights-out.

Learn about ways you can make any home or building more bird-friendly with seven simple and inexpensive solutions from Audubon Mid-Atlantic here: https://pa.audubon.org/news/seven-ways-bird-collisions-buildings-can-be-prevented.

5 comments

    1. Ornithology Collection Manger Nate Rice offers this advice:
      Any effort to minimize artificial evening light should be encouraged. Birds. along with other species of wildlife, respond negatively to such light sources to the point that it causes exceptional fatality levels for migratory bird species. Such efforts can be on the individual level, choosing to keep ones outdoor lights off at night, or at the city level with Philadelphia committing to reduce artificial light during peak migration periods. We are focused on the issue in Philadelphia, but if you can learn from our efforts and apply them to Shore areas that would be outstanding!

  1. you once had a drop off time to deliver frozen birds. I have an oven bird and a northern flicker that i found dead near our house in downtown Phila. which I’ve kept frozen with date/time/location of my findings. when/ how/where should I drop them off? I’ve lost that info. do you still want them?thanks, Louise

    1. From our Ornithology Curator Jason Weckstein:
      There is a freezer at our 19th Street entrance where you can deposit dead birds between 8-9 a.m., following all the procedures outlined by Bird Safe Philly. Click on this link https://www.birdsafephilly.org/get-involved and scroll down to Community Monitoring Instructions, where you’ll find a PDF titled “What to do with dead birds.” There are detailed instructions on the data and other information we need to accompany the specimens. You do NOT have to document them with iNaturalist if you choose not to.

      1. thanks – plan to do drop off tues. morning.
        found another this weekend: black & white warbler

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