by Jon Rice
Why Lights Out Pittsburgh?
Over the past eight years, scientists from Powdermill Nature Reserve have conducted research in Downtown Pittsburgh, working with the generous help of the public to determine where and when birds collide with windows and other building surfaces. During this time, we have determined what building parameters make the structures deadlier to birds. Meanwhile, at Powdermill Nature Reserve, research on avian perception of glass has identified and tested products that can deter birds from colliding with windows. Outside of these research efforts, one major factor related to window collisions demands more attention – light pollution.
As birds migrate at night, using the moon and stars to navigate, they can become disoriented by light pollution coming from the ground surface below them. The source is often large cities, but urban sprawl and suburban areas can be just as detrimental. Disoriented birds are drawn out of the sky into these areas, often ending their migratory flight for the night, when otherwise they would continue flying. It’s at this stage, when migrating birds are close to the ground and moving among buildings, that a large percentage of window collisions occur.
Dark Sky Ordinances and Lights Out Pittsburgh
Many cities around the world have begun developing dark sky ordinances to reduce light pollution for multiple reasons, including public health, improved potential for astronomical observations, and wildlife conservation. The City of Pittsburgh created such an ordinance in August of 2021. At the same time, Carnegie Museum of Natural History was approached by the National Aviary at Pittsburgh and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) with a proposal to start a local Lights Out initiative. A program modeled after existing ones in Philadelphia and several Ohio cities was developed with the input and aid of BOMA, whose participation ensured representation for the owners and managers of some of the city’s largest buildings.
Skyscrapers aren’t the only buildings participating in the program. Residential homes, apartment buildings, and other low-rise buildings are also encouraged to participate in the Lights Out initiative. To participate, all one must do is turn out unnecessary external lights from midnight to 6:00 a.m. between March 15 and May 31, then again between September 1 and November 15. These weeks-long intervals are the peak spring and fall avian migration periods.
Fall 2021 Lights Out Results
In the first week of our Fall 2021 Lights Out campaign, 18 buildings signed up. Five were residential homes in the area, and 13 were large commercial buildings in Downtown Pittsburgh, including Point Park University, BNY Mellon Center and Client Service Center, and several PNC Downtown properties. Over the next month an additional 35 participants joined. In total, 73 buildings began participating in the fall migration period, and we are hopeful participation will grow in the upcoming spring season from March 15 to May 31.
Jon Rice is the Urban Bird Conservation Coordinator at Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Powdermill Nature Reserve. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History Blog Citation InformationBlog author: Rice, Jon
Publication date: February 22, 2022