It's Official! City of Raleigh Turns Out Lights for Birds

i Nov 25th No Comments by

Authored by Rick LaRose
On November 2, 2015, the City of Raleigh Public Affairs Departments announced that, in collaboration with Wake Audubon, the City of Raleigh is implementing bird-friendly lighting strategies for City-owned and operated buildings. In doing so, Raleigh is the first city in North Carolina to reduce lighting on City owned and operated buildings to reduce bird collisions.
We are proud of our Wake Audubon citizen scientist volunteers for their passion and commitment to our Lights Out monitoring. City of Raleigh Sustainability Manager Megan Anderson was eager to understand our monitors’ findings, and work with Wake Audubon and stakeholders to script specific practices for city owned and operated buildings to save migrating birds – AND reduce energy consumption and costs, while maintaining pedestrian safety and security as utmost importance.
We applaud Megan Anderson and team, our city leaders, building managers and all stakeholders who were very supportive and happy to participate in this program. It has been a fantastic collaboration and partnership. Special thanks to organizers Lena Gallitano, Elaine McManus and John Little, and volunteer monitors for their early morning, pre-sunrise time downtown, all of whom enabled this achievement.
Read the City of Raleigh news release here.
View local news coverage:
News & Observer: Raleigh turns out lights for birds (link to : ) This idea’s for the birds: Raleigh to dim building lights (link to: )
WUNC: Raleigh to Turn ‘Lights Out’ After Hours to Protect Migrating Birds (link to:
Walter Magazine: Spotlight: Audubon Lights Out (February 2015)   (Gerry – link to this:
Read our full account of this initiative below:
Why do this?
Wake Audubon’s mission is one of conservation, education and advocacy. Raleigh City Council’s mission champions environmental, cultural and economic sustainability.
Evidence shows that artificial lighting can have dire consequences on myriad species of migrating birds that fly after the sun sets. Normally they rely on natural lighting – stars and constellations – to guide their journeys. Yet, indoor and outdoor urban lighting can confuse their sense of steering. Birds become disoriented and collide with lighted structures. Poor weather conditions like fog or rain causes birds to fly at even lower elevations, and exacerbate this circumstance. Bird friendly lighting practices have been successful in other cities like Toronto and Chicago where these have been implanted, both to reduce bird fatalities, and energy consumption and operating costs.
As environmental stewards, and citizens of Raleigh, we were interested to know the impact of Raleigh’s growing skyline on migrating species, and work with our leaders to implement similar practices.
Lights Out Raleigh monitoring
Volunteers from Wake Audubon Society began surveying buildings in downtown Raleigh in fall 2013. This citizen science project followed the National Audubon Society developed protocol for Lights Out programs. Data was collected daily beginning at 6:30 AM from, March to May and September to November in fall of 2013, spring and fall 2014 and spring 2015.
More than 2 dozen Wake Audubon volunteers walked in teams of two to conduct the Wake Audubon Lights Out surveys. We had a number of inquiries, and positive interest, from citizens who began to recognize our volunteers during their early morning monitoring.
Data was collected by buildings when birds were either found dead, injured or stunned. Monitors collected more than 100 dead or injured birds. It is insightful to see the species that were most commonly found.
Twenty seven bird species were collected in our monitoring. 21 species were migrants, with some coming to Raleigh as their breeding destination or overwintering destination, or passing through on their way north or south.
Our native year-round birds, for the most part, seem to have adapted to living with buildings in an urban habitat, though we did find mourning dove, woodpecker, blue jay, house wren, eastern towhee, sparrows, cardinals and more in low numbers.
Common Yellowthroat, ovenbird, white throated sparrows and two species of thrush – Hermit and Wood Thrush – were found in the largest numbers. Wood Thrush is a species of concern in North Carolina because of their decreasing numbers.  Chimney Swifts, another bird found at several buildings, has been Wake Audubon’s ‘Bird of the Year’ 3 of the past 5 years (Gerry – link ‘Wake Audubon’s Bird of the Year’ to – and will be the Audubon NC Bird of the Year for 2016 – due to their declining numbers.
In reviewing the data, it was clear that the building where most dead birds were found is the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The Raleigh Convention Center and Wake County Justice Center followed.
We approached Raleigh City Council and City of Raleigh Sustainability Manager Megan Anderson with findings. Raleigh already has a progressive mission of conserving and protecting our environmental resources through best practices and cutting edge conservation and stewardship.
Our research enabled Megan and team to script win-win policies to both save birds and reduce energy consumption and operating cost at city-owned and operated buildings while maintaining pedestrian safety as of utmost importance.
As clarifying points: the Convention Center and Duke Performing Arts Center will be working to turn off non-essential lighting as the press release states. While some events may cause the need to lighting on during early morning hours, property managers will be as vigilant as they can be to turn off non-essential lighting, especially during migration months.
The Duke Performing Arts Center will turn off non-essential indoor lighting and the decorative architectural outdoor lighting (that lights up the front of the building). Ground level outdoor pathways around the Duke Performing Arts Center will stay lit for safety.
The Shimmer Wall on the Convention Center is iconic for Raleigh and also a street side lighting source. Wake Audubon did not identify this as contributing to bird deaths, and the Shimmer Wall will stay lit.
What we hope from this
With the City taking the first step, we believe that the managers of privately owned buildings will be more open to implementing similar efforts, resulting in even greater benefits. With City staff and Wake Audubon working together, Raleigh can serve as a model for other cities in North Carolina to implement bird-friendly lighting strategies.
How everyone can help
Help to make the skies darker during migration system:
Turn off lights outside your home, especially upward-facing lights.
Turn off inside lights when not in use; close blinds and curtains at home and before leaving your office for the day.
If you work in an office building, ask your employer to turn out exterior upward-facing lights, as well as interior light from 11 p.m. to dawn. If necessary to maintain interior lighting, draw shades to diffuse lights to lessen their brightness to the outdoors.
Further resources
Wake Audubon Lights Out Raleigh monitoring protocols and route (Gerry – link to attachment)
Wake Audubon Lights Out Raleigh data by species and location (Gerry – link to attachment
Lights Out History    (Gerry – link to attachment)
North Carolina Lights Out, Audubon North Carolina    (Gerry – link to
North America Lights Out, National Audubon Society   (Gerry – link to
American Bird Conservancy map of Lights Out programs  (Gerry – link to


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