City Wildlife, Washington’s emerging wildlife rescue organization, is introducing Lights Out DC to save birds migrating through the city.  Since collisions with buildings kill more wild birds than any other single factor and nocturnal migrants are attracted to artificial lights, Lights Out DC asks taller buildings to turn off unnecessary lights at night during critical migration periods. In addition to ensuring the survival of migratory birds, the program saves energy, reduces factors leading to climate change, saves money, and reduces light pollution.  Lights Out DC joins other highly successful lights-out programs in Chicago, Toronto, Boston, New York City, and Baltimore, to name a few.

The Problem

Each spring and fall, millions of birds migrate through the DC area. The bulk of the birds fly at night, when they can navigate by the stars and the air is less turbulent. Lights from cities, especially those on tall buildings or those aimed into the skies, disorient the birds and draw them in. Attracted to the lights, many hit windows. Others circle buildings until they fall of exhaustion. Either way, the result can be fatal for the migrants.

The Impact

Migratory bird populations continue to decline each year due to a number of factors that are putting enormous pressures on their survival as species. Migration is a particularly perilous time for them; the majority of these birds make twice-yearly trips between their breeding grounds in North America and their winter homes in Central and South America. Along the way they face numerous obstacles, of which collisions with buildings claim the largest number of lives. The U.S. Forest Service of the USDA estimates that 550 million birds die annually due to collisions with buildings.

The Solution

City Wildlife is asking the owners and managers of taller buildings in Washington, D.C. (and other locales in time) to turn off or dim all unnecessary lights between 11:00 p.m. and dawn during periods of bird migration. Participation in Lights Out DC is voluntary. Peak migration times are March 15 to May 30 during spring and August 15 to October 31 in the fall.

Lights of special concern are:

Tenants in upper stories of taller buildings will be asked to draw blinds and use spot lighting (table and desk lamps) after 11:00 p.m. during these dates.

Is It Effective?

A study by the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, the first US city to implement a lights out program, determined that turning off the lights at one downtown building (McCormick Place) reduced migratory bird mortality by 80 percent. Data collection is still going on in other cities, but preliminary findings are promising.

Other Benefits

In addition to saving birds, Lights Out DC will: save energy, reduce factors leading to climate change, save participants money, and reduce light pollution.

What Other Cities Have Similar Programs?

Toronto launched the first Lights Out program in the early 2000’s. Since then, Lights Out programs have been launched or are in development in: