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Big City Buildings--Lights Out Please!

Toronto Skyline
Photos Courtesy of FLAP

Starlight or City Lights?
As you know, night-migrating birds are thought to navigate primarily by the the stars. In downtown city areas with tall, lighted buildings, the birds confuse the city light with starlight--especially in foggy or rainy weather, and especially after midnight, when birds begin to descend from their peak migration altitude. Once disoriented, many collide with the buildings and fall to the sidewalks below. Others, like a moth attracted to light, flutter around the lighted windows until they are exhausted. Birds by the hundreds and even thousands can be injured or killed in a single night at one building. The problem is greatest in cities along flyways and along large bodies of water (such as lakeshores or rivers) which birds follow during migration.

One expert estimates that across North America, up to 100 million birds die in with lighted office buildings each year-- that's more birds than died in the Exxon Valdez oil spill!

FLAP To The Rescue!
To find a solution to this problem in his city, Toronto artist Michael Mesure founded an organization called FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Project ) in 1993. During spring and fall migration, teams of FLAP volunteers wake up before dawn. Equipped with bags and nets, they rescue the birds on the sidewalks that are still alive, protect them until they recover, and send them on their way.

City Sidewalks
Most mornings volunteers find many birds on the sidewalks, and if it's bad weather, there can literally be hundreds! Before FLAP began its efforts, dead and dying songbirds were just swept up and put in garbage bags--sometimes still alive.

Volunteer patrols regularly begin at 4:00 a.m. Why so early? Because they must rescue the birds before the gulls, cats, raccoons and other predators arrive for an easy meal.

Bird-Friendly Buildings
FLAP is now working to enlighten office building managers in many cities that they can help solve this problem. FLAP has found that the easiest way to help prevent bird collisions is to get the buildings to turn off their lights at night during the migration season--it's that easy! (And it saves energy too!)

Here's one city that's doing it's part: During migration, the Toronto skyline will be darker because over 80 buildings have agreed to participate in the "Bird-Friendly Building Program". This certification program was launched by FLAP and World Wildlife Fund Canada. A manager of each coordinates the program and encourages office workers to turn off their lights before leaving and draw their blinds. These buildings have earned the right to display the official "Bird-Friendly Building" logo.

Are the Buildings in Your City Bird-Friendly?

According to FLAP data, the species most commonly killed during migration by lighted structures are ovenbirds (17%) and white-throated sparrows (20%). Ovenbirds
winter in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean

Seiurus aurocapillus