Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sparkling Birds

I took this photo of the World Trade Center Light Memorial this year on 9/11. The normally still columns were filled with thousands of shifting silver dots of light that glittered as they moved. At the time I didn’t know what they were.

They turned out to be migrating birds!

Hundreds of thousands of birds fly over New York City each autumn on their way to their southern winter homes. Light from the sun, moon, and stars helps them navigate. But artificial lights can interfere with their natural abilities to find their way. Unlike most autumn migrants, the birds that flew down Broadway on the night of 9/11 did not pass overhead unseen; instead they flew into the memorial lights. They became disoriented and stayed there, circling, illuminated like silver sparks. 

The lights were turned off five times during the night for 20-minute periods to allow the birds to fly away.

But migrating birds are still in danger. Brightly lit buildings confuse them too; many birds die every year when they fly into office building windows. The phenomenon is gaining recognition and famous sites like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building dim their lights from midnight until dawn during fall migration. It saves a lot of birds. Let us hope that it catches on.

You can read more about it here:  'Lights out' help migratory birds

There is more information about urban birds in my book,  Field Guide to Urban Wildlife, which will be published by Stackpole Books in spring 2011. 

1 comment:

  1. Julie, Thanks for a post near and dear to me. I am constantly amazed at how few people understand the breadth of this problem.
    Two sites that I find useful are Fatal Light Awareness Program (, and Birds and Buildings (
    There is a lot that we can do to minimize our impact on the wildlife we love.