Imagine arriving to work and finding nearly 400 dead birds on the ground. That’s precisely what happened at the American National Insurance building in Galveston, Texas, on May 4, 2017.
In a single night, hundreds of migrating birds slammed into the side of the skyscraper. All but three found on the ground died.
The birds were on their way north from the Gulf of Mexico, migrating toward the Texas Gulf Coast. Flocks of birds, tired from the long trip over water, encountered stormy weather that made them adjust their course. As they arrived in Galveston, the birds had to fly lower than their typical 1,000 to 5,000 feet.
Sadly, the combination of exhaustion, stormy conditions and nighttime building floodlight illumination disoriented the birds.
“They will end up circling, confused, and not know how to get out of it,” Houston Audubon conservation director Richard Gibbons told The Houston Chronicle. “Maybe they were attracted to [the building], maybe trying to get around it, but were slammed back into it by those winds.”
In all, this event claimed the lives of:
90 Nashville Warblers, 60 Blackburnian Warblers, 42 Chestnut-sided Warblers, 41 Ovenbirds, 29 Yellow Warblers, 26 Black-and-white Warblers, 24 Magnolia Warblers, 21 American Redstarts, 15 Indigo Buntings, 8 Black-throated Green Warblers, 5 Kentucky Warblers, 4 Eastern Wood-Peewees, 3 Golden-winged Warblers, 2 Painted Buntings, 2 Orchard Orioles, a Hooded Warbler, a Gray Catbird, aBlue Grosbeak, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, an Orange-crowned Warbler, a Summer Tanager, a Worm-eating Warbler, a Red-eyed Vireo, and a Cerulean Warbler.
It remains unclear if these birds were flying as a single group or if they hit the building separately throughout the night. It’s unusual for a bird strike like this to happen after dark. Typically, birds hit buildings during the day because they’re confused by the glass windows.
“Since the building’s 45 year existence, no one could recall anything like this having occurred,” Bruce LePard, senior vice president and chief human resources officer of American National Insurance, told Houston Audubon.
Fortunately, American National Insurance wants to make sure something like this never occurs again. Shortly after the incident, the company conferred with Houston Audubon. The company then decided to turn off the building’s nighttime illumination during migration season.
“It is a little strange to see the building in the dark after so many years of having it illuminated, but it is the right thing to do,” Le Pard said. “If it saves a bird, it’s worth it.”
If all high-rises sitting along the path of migrating birds doused their lights at night during peak migration periods, millions of birds could potentially be spared.
And Audubon’s Lights Out initiative aims to achieve just that.
Beginning in Toronto in 1993, the Lights Out program has grown to include many major cities around the U.S. and Canada. On a voluntary basis, buildings in urban centers like New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C, San Francisco, Baltimore, Milwaukee and many more now turn off excess evening lighting — architectural and internal — during the months migrating birds fly north or south.
Turning off the lights helps building owners too. The move can cut electricity bills by up to 25 percent, all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Thankfully, these Galveston bird deaths won’t be entirely in vain. About 200 of the bird carcasses will go to the Louisiana State University, and the other half to Texas A&M, for further study.
Researchers will aim to understand if the birds were healthy prior to this incident. The bodies will also give experts a chance to closely examine the various species, and their findings may aid in future bird conservation work.
Kudos to American National Insurance for reacting so swiftly and positively to address this issue. If more building owners paid attention to these issues, many more bird lives could be spared.
After all, bird-friendly building design — with windows and lighting that doesn’t confuse birds — is easily achievable.
And for that matter, it’s hardly inconvenient to just turn off all the lights at night. These measures cost little but make a substantial impact.
If you live in an urban center along the path of migrating birds, consider lobbying high-rise owners to participate in a Lights Out program in your city. It’s an easy and proactive way to personally help save the lives of thousands — perhaps millions — of birds every year.
This article was first published by Care2.com on 23 May 2017.
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