Philadelphia Joins National Lights Out

Up to one billion birds die each year across the United States when they collide with buildings and windows, attracted by their bright artificial lights at night. Now, Bird Safe Philly, a coalition of nonprofits, has joined forces with the City of Philadelphia and the building industry to help mitigate the problem in Philadelphia — situated in a migration corridor for birds along the Atlantic Flyway.   

Today Bird Safe Philly announced that Philadelphia is joining the national Lights Out initiative. This voluntary program 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 Philadelphia. In the fall, Lights Out Philly and peak migration will occur between Aug. 15 and Nov. 15 as birds travel south.   

Northern Rough-winged Swallows © George Armistead

Each year tens of millions of birds pass through Philadelphia during spring and fall while migrating between their breeding and wintering grounds. Many never complete their epic journey because they are killed when they fly into buildings and windows, confused by the bright artificial lights and glass.   

During the spring and fall migration periods, property managers and their tenants will be asked to voluntarily switch off unnecessary lights between midnight and 6 a.m., especially in a building’s upper levels, lobby and atrium, and turn off or dim external lighting. Find more information and sign up for Lights Out Philly at no cost at www.birdsafephilly.org.  

“We’re pleased to partner with the Bird Safe Philly coalition for the Lights Out initiative. Turning down lights in our tallest buildings will not only protect countless birds, but also save energy and reduce carbon emissions in line with meeting the City’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050,” said Christine Knapp, Director of Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability.    

Today, Philadelphia City Councilmembers Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At-Large) and Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) introduced a resolution in support of the Lights Out Initiative.   

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo: Stephen Maciejewski

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 this 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.” 

Philadelphia joins 33 other cities with Lights Out programs including New York, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, Wilmington, Del., and Washington, D.C. The National Audubon Society, along with partners, established the first Lights Out program in 1999 in Chicago.  

In the 1890s, the Academy of Natural Sciences started collecting birds that crashed into Philadelphia buildings. That’s when some of the earliest recorded “window kills” were noted by The Evening Bulletin  following the lighting of City Hall tower in 1896. Today the most common species to meet their demise by Philly buildings are Ovenbirds, Common Yellowthroats, White-throated Sparrows, and Gray Catbirds.   

Early adopters of Lights Out Philly include: BNY Mellon Center, Comcast Technology Center and Comcast Center, Jefferson Center, One South Broad, One Liberty Place, Two Liberty Place, and 1515 Market Street.  

Feature photo: Peregrine Falcon at Philadelphia City Hall © George Armistead

5 comments

  1. Congratulations, Philadelphia!!! I am so happy to see this. I once collected a female woodcock at the base of the AT&T building, which is now in the Academy collection, and remember seeing so many birds on the sidewalks while walking to work. This is a huge move in the right direction.

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