Turning off your Office Lights | Is it “for the Birds?”

By Todd Calongne

Living in a midtown Manhattan high-rise, the views at night are beautiful.  Times Square is lit up with thousands of lights. I see some of my favorite brand names glow down the street without much change from the 1940s. When I look up at the office buildings I see every floor fully lit. I am immediately frustrated because people not working at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday morning on every floor!  Does the building keep lights on for reasons?

I’m not alone with this bird’s eye view.  There are millions of real birds that fly through New York City every year that also see these overly lit buildings and many of them don’t survive the experience.  In certain conditions when birds fly at lower altitudes they smash into windows at speeds that may be in excess of 70 mph. Ouch…splat!

Photo via http://bit.ly/yISNlj

A study conducted by the Field Museum in Chicago showed that by turning the lights off in an office building the number of birds killed dropped by 83%. The well lit buildings confuse birds with their artificial lights, and often blinded by weather are unable to see glass. Often birds are simply exhausted by flying around the lights like moths near a flame and they are easily injured or killed.

The economic impact for the buildings or owners ensuring lights are off, the impact on our aging power grid and the clear lack of energy conservation aside, us green urban dwellers have an opportunity to save the lives of tens of thousands of our winged cohabitants!

NYC Audubon Society Associate Director, John Rowden, PhD. explains,” The built environment of major cities presents innumerable challenges to native birds, particularly migrants, during the fall and spring. Two issues are particularly problematic for birds: the lights of buildings at night and glass that reflects habitat during the day, both of which can kill birds.”

Conservative estimates based on the best available data suggest 90,000 birds in New York City, and a minimum of 100 million birds throughout North America are killed by colliding into buildings each year. After habitat destruction, building collisions are thought to be the leading cause of death of native bird species.

Rowden notes, “With every man made obstacle, birds have to contend with just to find food and water, survive and reproduce, we should try to make our city as hospitable as possible, for example, by encouraging buildings to turn off their lights.”

What can you do to save a bird and energy tonight?

  1. Turn off the lights in your office or install motion sensor switches.
  2. Ask company leadership to join a “lights off” policy (NYC Audubon has a Lights Out program, with lots of information), also urge cost savings for the company and good corporate social responsibility.
  3. Contact a building in your neighborhood, and ask for light reduction measures.
  4. Use your social network to spread the word.

Buildings can be designed or retrofitted to include bird-friendly features.  EPA’s NYC offices go dark every night, who else follows suit?

About the Author: Todd Calongne serves as the Intergovernmental and Community Affairs Branch Chief for EPA’s Region 2.  New to EPA, Todd spent years working on community outreach for the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development.