In the News: Is Tribute in Light killing off the birds?

The Times has a story about the Tribute in Light and how it is endangering as many as 160,000 birds each time it lights up the sky. Citing the studies of bird migration patterns, the story says that the birds are attracted to and then confused by the light, and that this year, there’s a perfect storm of tribute and peak migration season. (Thanks to C. for the heads up.)

Turns out the Audubon Society has been on alert for this phenomenon since 2002, and started documenting the birds’ patterns from a parking garage rooftop near Wall Street. In 2007, the organization established this protocol with the city: If one or more birds crashes to the ground, dead; if the birds appear to be trapped (flying low in the beams and calling); or, if 1,000 birds are in the beams for more than a 20-minute period; then the lights are shut off for 20 minutes, to allow them to fly on. (This according to an article in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.) Since they started monitoring and intermittently turning off the lights in 2010, only two birds have actually died at the WTC (not sure how many died before then, however).

It’s quite an operation and actually, quite a conundrum since I always thought the tribute was a bit of genius. If this is upsetting you, I really recommend reading the story or this opinion piece from last year written by a pair of Cornell ornithologists.

Another tidbit: it’s not just the 9/11 lights that are threatening the birds. Buildings kill 260,000 birds a year in the city, or 600 million across the country. That’s way deadlier than any cat.



  1. Great work from the Audubon Society to work out this solution to at least minimize the death toll.

  2. It’s a sad state of affairs when people are more worried about birds and islamophobia than remembering the tragedies and respecting the heroism of the first responders on this horrible say.