Lights Out documentation


  1. Introduction

During spring and fall migration, millions of birds pass through North Carolina, often flying at night and passing over urban centers on their way to their destination.  Unfortunately, poor weather conditions (fog or rain) causes these birds to fly at lower elevations where they can be confused by building lights. As a result, the birds can become disoriented and collide with windows, resulting in serious injuries and death. Wake Audubon has documented more than 100 building associated bird deaths in downtown Raleigh over the last four migrations; the greatest number were found at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.

Wake Audubon, a local chapter of more than 1,500 members, is partnering with Audubon NC on the Lights Out program to raise awareness of this issue in Raleigh. As a first step, Wake Audubon is reaching out to Raleigh to reduce lighting in city buildings in an effort to reduce bird deaths.  Similar efforts are underway in Winston-Salem and Charlotte.

Research has shown that eliminating non-essential indoor and exterior building lighting between 11:00 PM and 6:00 AM during spring and fall migration can significantly reduce bird mortality. At the same time, significant savings on utility bills could be realized if the reduced late night lighting is extended to a year round practice.

Raleigh can become the first city in North Carolina to implement a Lights Out program for all city-owned buildings. Instituting a Lights Out policy for buildings owned by the City of Raleigh falls within the first two points of the Raleigh City Council mission:

  • We are a 21st Century City of Innovation focusing on environmental, cultural and economic sustainability.
  • We conserve and protect our environmental resources through best practices and cutting edge conservation and stewardship, land use, infrastructure and building technologies.

Wake Audubon members stand ready to assist city staff with a public awareness campaign.  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 develop a Lights Out Program.

  1. Lights Out Background
  1. One of the earliest Lights Out programs is the Fatal Light Awareness Program or FLAP from Toronto Canada.  The Executive Summary from the 2002 Summary Report on the Bird Friendly Building Program: Effect of Light Reduction on Collision of Migratory Birds is included as Attachment A.  Building managers had this to say in the section “Effects of the Program on Managers, Staff, and Tenants” (page 9 of the full report):

… In general, managers commented that tenants were becoming increasingly aware of environmental issues, and were thus enthusiastic and receptive about participating in the Bird Friendly Building program as a positive “green” initiative. From the perspective of building managers, reduced light emission … was cited by many as being “a win-win situation”, since reduction in light emission resulted in reduced power consumption and ultimately decreased operating costs.

Full Report is available here:

  1. Chicago was one of the earliest cities in the United States to recognize the problem of bird collisions with buildings.  In 1998 building managers embraced a light reduction program and today the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago has a robust Lights Out program.  In addition to protecting birds, many managers have also seen a reduction in operating costs due to reduced electrical bills.
  1. Today there are 22 cities across the US with Lights Out programs.  They are identified on this American Bird Conservancy’s map:

  1. In April, 2015 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that all state owned buildings will participate in the Lights Out program.

  1. In May, Congressman Quigley (D-Illinois) and Congressman Griffith (R-Virginia) introduced H.R. 2280 the “Federal Bird-Safe Buildings Act of 2015”.  This bill recognizes the need for buildings to be constructed in a manner that protects birds.  This bill, if passed, will require new and renovated federal buildings to use bird-safe building materials and design features.  Audubon has compiled bird-safe information on materials and designs for architects and planners.

  1. Raleigh’s Walter magazine had a story about the Wake Audubon Society Lights Out initiative in February, 2015.
  1. Lights Out Raleigh – Fall 2013 – Spring 2015

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 each of the following years:

  • Fall 2013
  • Spring & Fall 2014
  • Spring 2015

Over 20 volunteers have walked in teams of two to conduct the Wake Audubon Lights Out surveys.  Their passion for the importance of this issue is shown by their statements in Attachment B.

The Survey Protocol and Route Map are included as Attachment C.

Data was collected by building when birds were either found dead or stunned.  In reviewing the data, it is clear the building where most dead birds were found is the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.  Attachment D:  Lights Out Data by Species & Location – 2013-15.

It is interesting to see the species that were most commonly found.  Most are migratory birds with some coming to Raleigh as their breeding destination while others continue further north.  Our native year-round birds, for the most part, seem to have adapted to living with buildings in an urban habitat.  Common Yellowthroat, and three species of thrush, Gray-cheeked, 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, will be the Audubon NC “Bird of the Year” for 2016 due to their declining numbers.

Attachment A

Summary Report on the Bird Friendly Building Program:

Effect of Light Reduction on Collision of Migratory Birds.

Special Report for the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP)


Lesley J. Evans Ogden

Ecological Research Consultant

January, 2002

Executive Summary

Most migratory songbirds are nocturnal migrants, which makes them vulnerable to collision with lighted structures they encounter along their flight path during migration. The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) was formed by a group of concerned citizens to rescue and relocate disoriented birds trapped in the city centre, and to record the number and species of birds killed due to collision. Following the initiation of the Bird Friendly Building (BFB) Program by FLAP and World Wildlife Fund Canada in 1997, light emissions at 16 buildings in the downtown core of Toronto were also monitored during migration seasons. This report summarizes data on birds and light emissions collected from 1997 to spring 2001. This data provides evidence that:

  • the number of fatal bird collisions increases with increasing light emissions
  • the number of birds entrapped by particular buildings rises with increasing light emissions
  • the BFB has been successful in reducing light emissions
  • weather is the most important factor influencing collision risk
  • nights of heavy cloud cover and/or nights with precipitation are the conditions most likely to result in high numbers of collisions.

A survey of building managers involved in the BFB program revealed that tenant education programs about bird collisions had increased awareness of the problem. Managers found that most tenants were willing to participate in the BFB, which they saw as a “green” initiative that had a positive environmental impact. Many buildings had installed or reprogrammed automated light systems that reduced the number of night-time hours that lights were left on. Several buildings that had limited success in reducing light levels between 1997 and fall 2001 have recently installed automated timer systems that should dramatically improve their light emission reductions in the future. In general, the BFB represents a win-win situation for property managers because reducing the period of time that lights are on not only reduces bird mortality but also results in substantial cost savings due to reduced energy consumption. An estimated $3.2 million could be saved if all of the 16 monitored buildings employed the nighttime light emission reductions already in place at several of the BFB sites. Such a reduction in power consumption would result in an estimated reduction of 38,400 tons of CO2-emissions from fossil-fuel burning energy sources. The BFB therefore contributes locally to a reduction in bird mortality, and globally to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, thus reducing the production of greenhouse gases that lead to global climate change.

Full Report is available here:

Attachment B


I volunteered for Lights Out because …

  • because I want to help the birds make it through their long migration journeys
  • The two most important things I have done with the Wake Audubon Chapter are coordinate the Lumber River IBA counts and participate in the Lights Out Surveys.  While they have been very different emotional experiences, they have similar value in that they provide essential data in determining vital information about birds in our state.   The environments are very different–very rural swamplands and about-to- wake- up urban hustle.  But the feeling of being useful is almost equal.
  • 1) Wake Audubon asked for help, 2) I usually skip breakfast and wouldn’t otherwise have an excuse to down a delicious omelet at the Morning Times, 3) it’s fun to watch the City wake up, 4) I like the idea of participating, in some small way, in a research project that may ultimately benefit birds and that contributes to our understanding of some facet of their behavior.
  • it’s an easy way to work towards undoing some of the negative impacts people have had on the rest of Earth’s inhabitants.
  • because birds are so very important to our world and its survival plus it is good to give to such a group as Audubon ~ serving a good cause, growing in my own awareness, stepping outside my own small box.

Attachment C

Lights Out Raleigh

Wake Audubon Society

Bird-building collision monitoring and rescue protocols

Fall 2014


Elaine McManus: Coordinator. [email protected], 919-341-4925

CLAWS, Inc.: Chapel Hill, rehabilitator for injured birds.  919-619-0776

Lena Gallitano can store dead birds if you are unable to 919-571-0388

Must-have supplies Other helpful gear

Flat-bottomed bag for supplies e.g. reusable grocery bag Camera (phone is fine)

Ziploc bags – warbler to woodcock size Flashlight

Data slips Field guide

Pencil Binoculars

Paper grocery bags & lunch bags Disposable gloves

Clothespins, binder or paper clips

Copy of federal permit & letter of authorization

Start your survey before 7 a.m. (preferably by 6:30) and include the following buildings.  Parking is free on Fayetteville Street until 8:00 AM.


A map of the buildings and a walking route is available in a PDF document.  The Green route begins in the front of Wells Fargo and goes south.  Looping back, the Pink route will return you to your car.  All of the buildings are indicated on the map.

click here to see the map: downtown map2

Always enter your data on GoogleDocs (even if you don’t find a bird):

Every time you survey downtown, go to this link and fill out the form. Negative data are very helpful in determining more accurate estimates of bird collisions. You do not have to have a gmail address to use the form. It’s easy, with drop-down menus. Be sure to bookmark the link.

When you find a dead bird:

1. Photograph the bird as it lies if you have a camera with you.

2. Put the bird in a Ziploc bag.

3. Fill out the data sheet in pencil and place it inside the bag: DATE, TIME, LOCATION, YOUR NAME, SPECIES (if you know it). In most cases the location will be the building name. We can add the exact street address later. Press the air out of the bag and seal it.

4. When you get home, put the bird in your freezer until you can get it to Lena Gallitano or the Science Museum (bird must be photographed before turning over to museum).

When you find an injured bird:

1. Approach the bird from behind or from the building. Capture it in a paper bag.

2. Make some very small air holes by tearing the edges of the bag. Fold over the top of the bag and close tightly with clothespins or paper clips.

3. Open the bag again only in a safe, vegetated location away from buildings. Birds that can fly may be released.

4. Birds that should go to rehab: those with visible injuries to the eye, head or wing, ones that can’t fly, or ones that are still lethargic (puffed up, with eyes closed) after several hours in the bag. Ones that are ready to go will be hopping around madly trying to get out.

Contact the rehabilitator, CLAWS, Inc. 919-619-0776 or [email protected] for details on how to proceed with an injured bird.  CLAWS serves a very large area but someone will call you back as soon as possible if you leave a message.  Telephone message is preferable.

Identification of birds found during monitoring 2013-2015: click on the link below.

Lights Out Data by Species & Location – 2013-15