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Glass Buildings Are Deadly for Birds in the City



Millions of birds are killed each year in cities when they strike illuminated buildings, especially ones covered with a lot of glass. Experts say artificial lights at night are confusing for migratory birds. They often collide with glass buildings -- not knowing the light is on the other side.

In response, a growing movement to save birds from such crashes has been taking place in cities across the United States.

“There is a bird here, a woodpecker.”

Lisbeth Fuisz is director of a campaign called Lights Out DC. Her team found several dead birds one morning at the base of glass buildings.

“Very beautiful. You see the red head?”

Volunteers often travel a six-kilometer path in downtown Washington, D.C. every day before sunrise. Many of the volunteers are amateur bird-watchers. They walk around the sides of buildings, collecting fallen birds before they are eaten by predators or swept away by cleaning crews.

Lisbeth Fuisz says the area has many buildings that pose a danger to migrating birds.

“Large expanses of glass that are lit at night -- that have plants inside the building. Because the bird sees the plant in the building, it doesn’t perceive the glass and runs into the windows. And they are attracted to the lights.”

The Lights Out DC campaign urges building owners to turn off unnecessary lights at night during peak bird migration periods, in the spring and fall.

“These are mostly small birds. There is a lot of advantages flying at night, less predators. There is less thermal upheaval so that they can fly more easily. There is also speculation that they navigate using the stars.”

The Lights Out campaign is now in its fifth year. Lisbeth Fuisz says her group is having some success. She also says one of many federal office buildings has agreed to their request.

“Since they’ve done that, we’ve seen a two-thirds reduction in the amount of bird fatalities at that site.”

Ann Lewis is president of City Wildlife – a group that identifies dead birds through the Lights Out DC program. She says other major other cities have reported similar results.

“When they had a large campaign in Chicago to get buildings to turn off lights, the bird mortality was reduced by 80 percent there.”

This year, volunteers have collected almost 400 birds in the small area of Washington. The birds are identified, frozen and photographed.

“The purpose of collecting birds is to have proof that there is a problem. And that is also why we photograph the birds. In the United States, anywhere from 100 million to 1 billion birds are killed by glass collision every year. That is sad.”

The birds are donated to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Brian Schmidt is head of the museum’s bird collection.

“These specimens that we get can be used for a wide variety of studies. One example is researchers can look at carbon and nitrogen signatures and they can determine where these birds hatch, where they grow up, and why they are coming through our section of the country.”

Volunteers hope their effort will bring increased public interest in the problem, helping to save birds and electricity.

I’m Marsha James.

This story came from reporter June Soh. Marsha James wrote it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

illuminate - v. to supply something with light; to light up

predator - n. an animal that lives by killing and eating other animals

posev. to be or create (a possible threat, danger or problem)

peakadj. top periods

specimen n. something collected as an example of something

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