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Hundreds -- if not thousands -- of migrating birds died last fall in Philadelphia as they accidentally flew into skyscrapers. In response, an organization is extending some “brotherly love” to birds by asking owners of buildings in Philadelphia to turn off lights at night to make birds’ migration safer.

Called the “Lights Out Philly” program, the initiative asks property managers and tenants alike to turn off lights between midnight and 6 a.m. -- especially in a building’s upper levels and atriums -- during birds’ spring migration from April 1 to May 31. The effort will make migration safer for birds, and in the process, deliver significantly lower electric bills for owners and tenants alike.

A Hazard For Migrating Birds

During migration, birds navigate using the stars. The problem in cities is that on a cloudy night when they cannot see the stars, birds get distracted by bright city lights -- especially those of skyscrapers.

“Unfortunately, many birds are killed when they fly into buildings, confused by artificial lights at night or by reflective or transparent glass surfaces,” explains Bird Safe Philly, a partnership led by the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University, the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, and a number of Audubon Societies. “Artificial lights at night can attract birds migrating at night to buildings, and ultimately cause them to collide with other parts of the buildings associated with the lights.”

What Happened In Philadelphia

Each year, tens of millions of birds pass through Philadelphia during the spring and fall migration, Bird Safe Philly explains. Unfortunately, on a single Friday night last October, as many as 1,500 birds died in a small downtown area of Philadelphia, a Philadelphia Inquirer article reports.

“Conditions were perfect for a heavy migratory flight and imperfect given that there was a low ceiling of clouds and rain,” Jason Weckstein, associate curator of ornithology at Drexel University’s Academy of Natural Sciences, said in an Associated Press article. “That, in combination with Philly’s bright city lights, was a disaster for many fall migrant birds winging their way south.”

How Lights Out Will Help

To help birds of all types during their migrations, Bird Safe Philly is promoting the Lights Out Philly initiative, which asks Philadelphia’s building owners to turn off lights from midnight to 6 a.m. during the spring migration -- April 1 to May 31. The program will resume for birds’ fall migration -- August 15 to November 15. Turning out the lights across Philadelphia during those times has the potential to reduce bird deaths by as much as 80 percent, Bird Safe Philly explains.

In Philadelphia, the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) represents nearly 500 members who either own or manage commercial properties -- or companies that provide services to buildings. The response from its members so far has been “extremely robust,” the Associated Press article reports.

“We have some early adopters, and the list is approaching 20 buildings -- many of which are iconic and very recognizable members of the Philadelphia skyline, such as One and Two Liberty Place, Comcast Technology Center and Comcast Center, Mellon Bank Building, and all of Brandywine Realty Trust’s Center City and University City buildings,” BOMA Executive Director Kristine Kiphorn says in the article. “We get to do our part in the community to help preserve the bird population, and we get to conserve energy at the same time -- saving money for our tenants and our assets.”

Lights Out In Other Cities

Philadelphia -- of course -- isn't alone in having skyscrapers and also being in the path of birds’ migrations. The first Lights Out program actually was established in Chicago in 1999 by the National Audubon Society along with numerous partners. The number of participating cities has grown since then. Today, in addition to Philadelphia, there are 33 other cities -- including New York, Boston, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. -- with Lights Out programs.

More about Lights Out Philly can be found here and more about Bird Safe Philly can be found here. Love birds? See all our bird watching content here. Plus, how to spend a great weekend in Philadelphia and the best Philadelphia museums to visit.

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