In New York City, the Tribute in Light is described by the Washington Post as “an etheral tribute to the towers that fell there..” Dozens of 7,000-watt bulbs are turned on at sundown on 9/11, creating two columns of light going straight up for 4 miles and can be seen for 60 miles in every direction.
Susan Elbin, Director of Conservation and Science at NYC Audubon, and colleagues published a paper today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The results of their yearly tally of birds in the lights between 2008 and 2016, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.1 million migrating birds were affected by the light. Within 20 minutes of the lights going on the number of birds right there goes from 500 to 15,000.
The birds become so disoriented in the bright lights, flying in circles for hours until exhausted, some falling the ground and others finally able to escape as the sun comes up only to smash into buildings.
Elbin’s research is going to significantly address the problem of the hazards of light pollution on bird populations and migration. Other causes of concern are glow from cell towers, flood lights, stadiums, office windows and streetlamps. And, of course, the problem just snowballs from here.
The National September 11 Memorial and Museum runs the Tribute in Light has embraced Elbin’s science and they are working together to find solutions, one of which is turning off the lights to let the birds escape when they get to a critical mass.
This is, indeed, a rare opportunity for biologists to study nighttime bird migration up close and will help to quantify the impact of artificial light on birds and other animals. For us homeowners, this is a solvable problem, such as swapping in dark sky fixtures for your current outdoor lighting with . Over time I expect it will continue to get better.