Scarlet Tanager

The eastern flyway takes millions of migrating birds, like this Scarlet Tanager, over Delaware and other East Coast states.

From Aug. 15 to Oct. 15, buildings in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles will turn out lights between midnight and dawn to save the lives of migrating birds.

Since 1993, a growing number of cities across North America have been reducing light pollution through Lights Out programs. Migration has always been perilous for birds, but humans have added a danger that increases with each passing year: high-rise buildings, many with glass exteriors, and increased lighting inside and out.

According to research, each year across the U.S., an estimated 365 million to 1 billion birds die because of this deadly combination of buildings and lights.

“Birds tend to migrate at night,” explained Chris Williams, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware. “They move under the cover of darkness, using the stars and the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate. Unfortunately, the ambient light of cities dims the stars and throws off bird navigation. This deviation wastes their energy, and it also increases the chance these birds will strike buildings and perish before finding their way back on their migratory path.”

This spring, Williams, who also co-chairs the UD Sustainability Council, proposed that the university initiate a Lights Out program on campus. UD is asking students and faculty to turn out lights that aren’t needed at night and is working with Chemours and other STAR Campus facilities to reduce indoor and outdoor lighting on their multi-story buildings.

Since April, Williams and other members of the sustainability council have teamed up with The Newark Partnership’s Sustainable Newark Initiative, the City of Newark Public Works Department and the Conservation Advisory Commission to promote the campaign citywide.

At its May meeting, the CAC made a recommendation to city council that the City of Newark join in and support this coordinated effort to reduce lighting where possible during migration. Council will vote on this recommendation Aug. 23.

In addition to saving birds’ lives, the stated benefits to the city are savings on energy costs and reduced air pollutants and greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. These measures align with Newark’s sustainability plan goals.

Businesses, apartment buildings and households can participate by turning off unnecessary indoor and outdoor lighting between midnight and sunrise. Other actions that can make a difference are putting lights on timers, using motion sensors and down-shielding outdoor lights that must be kept on.

If you’d like to learn more, the Newark Partnership’s Sustainable Newark Initiative has been working with local businesses and developing a Lights Out website at One feature of this site is Bird Cast, daily radar mapping of bird movement during migration.

The Conservation Advisory Commission was created in 1977 to advise the city of Newark in the development, management and protection of its natural resources, with appropriate consideration of Newark’s human and economic resources. It meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in council chambers. The public is invited to attend and provide input. Commission members provide this monthly column to inform area residents on conservation issues.

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