State College Bird Club

January 24, 2018

State College Bird Club Meeting, January 24, 2018

Presiding: Doug Wentzel

Recording: Debra Grim

Attendees: 35

Checklist:  103 species reported, incl Snow Goose, Cackling Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Barn Owl, Snowy Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Northern Shrike, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting.

Treasurer report (Jean Miller): $212.48 spent in December

Field trips (Jon Kauffman): Owl Prowl with Diane Bierly on January 25; meet at overlook, Bald Eagle S.P.

New business/announcements:

Next meeting: February 28, 2018: Erynn Maynard, "Birds and invasive shrubs in eastern forests".

Speaker: Matt Shumar, "Lights Out for birds: creating safe passage for migrant land birds across the landscape".

Matthew Shumar is the Program Coordinator for the Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative (OBCI), a collaboration of non-profit groups, businesses, state and federal government agencies, and citizens working to advance bird conservation efforts. In addition to his work with OBCI, he is in charge of web communications for the Association of Field Ornithologists and is the co-editor of the Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Ohio.

Contact information
•    Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative website:
•    Matt Shumar’s email:

OBCI was established in 2004 and now partners with more than one hundred signatory organizations throughout the state of Ohio. Their objective pursues bird conservation, including the lights-out project.

Light pollution disrupts the navigation of migrating birds by rendering the stars less visible and by luring birds off-course. It is estimated that 500 million birds per year die in collisions with buildings and windows. Only cats are a greater threat to birds, as far as direct human influences go. The taller the building, the higher the danger to migrating birds.

In 1993 Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) launched in Toronto, Canada. Volunteers began patrolling the downtown area for dead and injured birds, and a database was formed. A clip from the documentary The Messenger explained that a simple change of behavior, flipping a switch, could save many of these birds. Businesses in Toronto began dimming the lights, decreasing bird mortality.

The 9-11 memorial in New York City was accumulating large piles of dead birds during migration. Cornell Ornithology and Audubon NYC began monitoring radar during migration and the city cooperated in turning off the lights during peak times.

Lights Off Chicago had similar success, with support from the mayor, and reduced bird collisions 80% since the 1990’s.

Glass is also deadly during the daytime. Building covered in glass kill birds, but technologies, such as etching, exist to modify the glass surface to make it less reflective. Cadillac Fairview Corporation was sued over three highly reflective buildings in Toronto that violated Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

The hawk silhouettes that are often placed on windows are not effective. A grid covering of tape or wire that leaves spaces less than four inches wide is shown to deter bird collisions with windows.

Lights Out recommendations include:

•    Reduce/eliminate exterior lights
•    Avoid use of spotlights
•    Turn off/dim upper floor interior lights
•    Draw blinds
•    Dim or turn off lights in lobbies/atriums
•    Use downward-facing sidewalk lighting

Lights Out in Ohio began in Columbus where it was well received. The collaboration comprises businesses, conservation groups, and universities. To monitor the effectiveness, volunteers photographed and collected fallen birds and delivered the carcass to Oklahoma State University’s Museum and the injured birds to Ohio Wildlife Center for rehabilitation.

Successful in Columbus, the program expanded to Dayton with similar results. However, it faced pushback in Cleveland, an industrial city whose officials did not like the name “Lights Out.” This program is particulary crucial in this city, which perches on the shore of Lake Erie, where migrating birds tend to congregate before crossing the lake. Along with other scavengers, gulls were attracted to the dead birds, and cleaning crews were sweeping birds both dead and alive into trash receptacles. For over ten years, any efforts at a solution were rejected, until a TV news story displayed a mass of bird carcasses. Because Columbus is at the edge of Lake Erie where birds pause before or after crossing the water, it is a focal point of bird movement.

A dedicated volunteer force to patrol Columbus’ business center, conversations with building managers, and coordination with city organizations finally turned the situation around. In 2017, 2,100 birds were collected. More than 700 of those survived to be released after rehab and banding. (None of the recovered birds were banded.) 2018 plans included attaching transmitters to study the survivability of these released birds. Dragonflies and bats were also collected.

The Ohio program has evolved into a statewide organization, the only one of its kind. Pittsburgh has a BirdSafe program in conjunction with Powdermill Nature Reserve.

To set up a Lights Out program, coordination of volunteers is crucial. Volunteers must scour the built-up areas early each morning. There should be facility, such as a museum or university, that can accept and use the dead birds, and an organization to rehabilitate the injured birds. Some architects have embraced the challenge of designing bird-friendly buildings. Sky watchers may be happy to help with a lights out initiative. Businesses may find the reduction in lighting saves money and buys goodwill.

Lights Out, State College, anyone?

Minutes by Debra Grim