>> Hello, everybody. Welcome to today’s webinar on Lights Out to protect migratory birds. Thank you all so much for joining us. This is part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s 2-week long Migration Celebration event. Check us out on our event web page, at the link that we’re putting into the chat right now, for more live events, articles and resources about migration. Hi, my name is Leo Sack, I will be facilitating today’s conversation. And our special guest today is Julia Wang, Project Coordinator for the Cornell Lab’s Lights Out campaigns. Good to see you.

>> Hi Leo, good to see you. Thank you for having me.

>> Our pleasure, thank you for being here. Now, before we hear from Julia, I want to quickly go over a few announcements. Number one, closed captioning is available. If you’d like to see subtitles please click on the captions button at the bottom of your screen. Number 2, we are streaming live to both Zoom and Facebook. If you are watching on the Cornell Lab’s Facebook page, please be aware there have been some spam attempts in the comments recently. So please do not click on any links in the comments unless they are posted by us here at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. And number 3, questions. We’re going to start with the discussion between Julia and myself. But we also want to answer questions from the audience. So if you are watching on Zoom, you can click on the Q&A button located at the bottom of your screen and type your questions into that Q&A window. If you see a question already typed into the Q&A that you like and want to see an answer too, please feel free to upvote that question by clicking on the thumbs up icon. We’ll also be answering some questions verbally, and others we’ll be typing in our answers. You can click over to the answer column in the Q&A to see our text responses. If you’re having technical problems with Zoom, please use the Zoom chat window for tech help or for any other comments. Q&A is for content questions and chat is for everything else. Finally, if you’re watching on Facebook you can add your questions to the Facebook comments, and I have colleagues behind the scenes who will gather up those questions and share them with us. So we will try to get to as many questions as we can. So with all of that said, let’s get started! Today’s topic is Lights Out, which is a campaign to get everyday people all over the country to do one simple action that helps protect migrating birds. And as I mentioned before, Julia here is our Lights Out project coordinator. So Julia, could you start us off with a little bit more of an introduction both to yourself and to this project. So briefly, what is Lights Out, and how did you get involved in it?

>> Sure, absolutely. So as Leo mentioned my name is Julia Wang I’m a BirdCast Project Leader and the Texas Lights Out coordinator. I’ve been with the Lab since early 2020, and primarily work on managing and coordinating on the ground conservation efforts that utilize BirdCast research in order to try and minimize threats to birds from the ground. So Lights Out is one such conservation effort that we’re focussing heavily on right now, and the idea basically is that lights can be very threatening to birds as they migrate during their spring and fall migrations, causing distraction that is can increase the risk of collisions, exhaustion, susceptibility to urban threats. And we want to get lights turned off in cities and major areas with lot of people, houses, pretty much everywhere across the country really, during bird migration when a lot of birds are passing through.

>> Excellent. Let’s back up a bit. To the reason why this Lights Out campaign is really necessary. You kind of alluded to it, but I’d love to hear you draw it out more. You’re trying to protect migrating birds, and you’re doing it by asking people to turn off outdoor lights at night, at least during periods of high migration. Make it really clear for us. What does night-time lighting have to do with migrating birds?

>> So what a lot of people don’t know is that the majority of birds actually migrate at night. Probably about 80% of migratory birds are flying at night rather than during the day. And on their migratory pathways, they’re sort of locating themselves using natural signals that can be confused by the presence of artificial urban lights. And so when that happens, that can result in disorientation and attraction to lights, sort of fly towards and spiralling in around lights for a long period of time, which can cause exhaustion and often brings them in closer to reflective buildings with glass that can cause collisions. And so what we’re trying to do is to forecast when exactly these birds are moving through areas with a lot of light on their migration pathways, so that we can alert people in those areas that birds are going overhead, and ask them to turn off their lights those nights. We ask that they be turned off typically from about 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. If you can turn them out throughout the entire night, you know, why not?

>> Okay. Excellent. So you mentioned alerting people to when lots of birds are going overhead so they know when to participate. Not just the time of night but which nights. How do you power those alerts?

>> So migration being about 3 months in the spring and 3 months in the fall, we know that that’s a very long period of time to ask people to turn off their lights, and to ask building managers and cities to turn off lights in major commercial buildings. So what we hope to do is to identify nights when really high migration is going through. And the way that we do that is that we utilize research that BirdCast is doing right now, to see where and when birds are going through. And so how we do this, is by looking at essentially the data that meteorologists discard from weather radars. Because the radar system picks up a lot of information, and some of that information is about weather, and some of it is about organic things like birds and bats and insects. So we separate out the data relevant to birds and then make maps that we put on our BirdCast website, so that you can see where birds are going through, where they are right now, and if you might need to turn off your lights for the night.

>> Excellent. Let’s see. Did you want to give us some examples of some different places, or tell us more about the goals of the campaign and examples of where that’s really been effective.

>> Sure. Lights Out is an effort that started a couple of decades ago in various cities across the country and also in Canada. And so there are a bunch of different campaigns already asking people to try and turn off their lights, and varying successfulness and effect. And two of the most major instances in which we’ve been able to see that this is an intervention that is simple and that works, are at the 9/11 Memorial Tribute in Light in New York City and at Chicago’s largest convention center. I’ll talk about the 9/11 Tribute in Light first. The tribute in light is something that happens every year on September 11th, where New York City puts up two really, really bright lights to essentially mimic the appearance of the twin towers. They use 887,000 watts positioned into 48-foot squares that are visible from a 60-mile radius. Which is beautiful, but unfortunately the birds are very much attracted to it, and September 11th falls right in migration season. So typically we see a lot of birds, hundreds and hundreds of them, caught in the beams. That was an issue because the birds would fly for hours and exhaust themselves, just circling in those beams and being pulled off of their migration pathways, essentially. So what Cornell did, with the help of New York City Audubon, is begin to monitor this Tribute in Light. And go there, and literally look up at bird density, and see when too many had selected and turn off the lights for about 20-minute intervals throughout the night when bird density got too high. They found when doing that, birds dispersed. It pretty much solved the problem, to turn off the lights and decrease the likelihood of bird collisions, bird fatalities throughout the night. So we’re like, okay, great. There’s been another long-running study that has been taking place in Chicago, at a lake front convention center called McCormick Place Convention Center. It’s primarily made out of glass and there’s a lot of light coming out of the convention center along the lake. So you have these factors where a lot of birds are coming through along the lake on their migratory pathways. And light is let out by all of the glass, and birds can’t see the glass so they’re more like total crash into that. So we were seeing a lot of fatalities there. And so the Chicago Field Museum conducted a study where they turned off some lights in some windows and not in others, and found that post-intervention there was about an 83% average reduction in collision kills. So for all the days counted, 1,297 birds died from hitting lit windows while only 192 birds died from hitting dark windows. Because the lights were out or heavy drapes were drawn so that lights couldn’t permeate outside where the birds could see. And so we know from these studies, and many other smaller studies, that it works! To turn off your lights to reduce the amount of collisions. And so what we’re really hoping to do here is just let everyone know about that. And make it more of a widespread thing.

>> Excellent. Wow, those are some really powerful examples there. So Julia, you’ve mentioned that there’s lots of different Lights Out campaigns in different cities, different parts of the country and run by different organizations. And part of your role here at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is, you’ve been working specifically in Texas on Lights Out campaigns for some big cities like Houston and Dallas. So why those cities? Why are you starting by focusing there?

>> So the first thing is, why start a campaign at all. And the reason is that the Lab can contribute this forecasting, which is a new element, and we think will increase the ability to work with stakeholders. Who perhaps aren’t naturally concerned about the birds, and more worried about inconvenience, and just want a lesser date range to work with. But still have maximal effect of protecting birds. So the Lab is really eager to expand our capacity in that sense, and be able to provide forecasting in cities that we’re really concerned about. And so moving onto cities we’re really concerned about, the reason that we’re working in Texas right now, is that Houston and Dallas are the number 2 and number 3 cities, of the 125 largest cities in the U.S., that have the highest risk of exposing birds to light pollution. Due to both the amount of light that these cities are emitting, and the really high volume of birds that traverse Texas during migration. So because of Houston and Dallas’s locations on the essential flyway, and because of the major amount of light that they produce as large cities, it’s a very risky area for birds. And there wasn’t much in the way of Lights Out campaigns here before hand. So we’re trying to fill that gap.

>> Makes sense. So you’re taking some of the most dangerous cities for birds, in terms of this particular threat, and trying to really zoom in on those. Excellent.

>> Yeah. Because what you saw prior to this, was that a lot of Lights Out campaigns sprung up because ordinary people would notice that there were a lot of collisions happening around them, so they would try to monitor that and create a Lights Out campaign. But there wasn’t any sort of research to identify where there was a real need. And because one of our collaborators published a study a couple years ago, now we have a better idea of where exactly we need to work for maximum effect.

>> Okay. So very targeted efforts. Good. Now, as part of campaign you’ve produced a couple of new videos recently, short clips that do a really excellent job of summing up this issue in a very short film, just 90 seconds. You’ve got one of those 90-second videos that’s about Lights Out in general, and then one that just came out this week that is specific to Texas. Would you tell us a little bit about these videos — why did you make them, why did you make them the way you did, what were the key concepts that you felt were most important to get across? And then could you share one of those videos with us?

>> Absolutely. Yeah, I would be happy to show you guys. Essentially the idea was that we wanted to create short videos, so that we could share them on social media for broad distribution that everyone could see. Primarily on Facebook and Instagram. Because this is an issue that requires buy-in from a lot of people, because birds are migrating across much of the country. And in order to reduce overall light levels we need a lot of people to turn out their lights. So we wanted to make sure that this message was getting out to everyone across the country, and specifically in Texas where we work. And so we tried to explain sort of our mission, how we collect the data that we use, and what we can provide to people, in very short segment that would be digestible and mostly text based so that you know, you can watch it on your phone while doing other things.

>> [Laughter].

>> So very excited to show you this one. The first one has some beautiful footage from a wonderful documentary called The Messenger, and that’s available on the Lab’s Facebook page for viewing afterwards if you guys haven’t already seen it. And the second one has some lovely animation from some people at the Lab. So super excited to show it to you. I’ll screen share and show that to you guys now.

>> Okay. That is an awesome video. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. Now, at the end of that video I noticed it referred to the BirdCast Alerts. You mentioned those before when you were talking about BirdCast, which uses radar data to track migration, and then model based on past migration patterns what’s expected to happen next. And so you have these forecasts generated, and then you can also generate these alerts for specific areas.

>> That’s correct.

>> You mentioned the BirdCast Alerts, and I want to also note that that is probably the most popular question in our Q&A so far, it was up-voted a lot: “How can I tell when migration in my region is at peak migration, is there a link?” So, Julia, can you share with us about the BirdCast Alerts?

>> Absolutely. The alerts are a new feature that we’ve just added this year. And are still working on, we’re very excited about the roll out. And what we provide is the ability to search your location in the continental U.S., to receive information about whether migration is “Low” or “Medium” or “High” in your area, that night and for the night after and the second night after. We do a 3-day forecast. So you can at a quick glance know whether or not you should turn off your lights. If it says “High,” we’ll have a little notification to ask you to please turn off your lights from 11:00 to 6:00 that night. It’s just a very simple visual way to get the message across. So that is offered on our website, BirdCast.info, which I can take you to and show you, so you can get a sense of what that looks like and what we offer on our website.

>> That would be great. Thank you.

>> Of course. So this is our new website which was released just a couple weeks ago. We’re very excited about it. This is the home page. If you scroll down you can see that we’ve put 3 products as the header here. What you see first is our Bird Migration Forecast Maps, where we show predicted migration for tonight, the next night and the next night after that at a quick glance. If you look at these maps, you can see that the colors represent different migration intensity, with the white and the yellow being the highest intensity, and the black and dark purple being the lowest. Beyond that we also offer Live Bird Migration Maps, and Local Bird Migration Alerts just a little bit further down. The live maps will be active at night and you can see where birds are and what direction they’re moving, if they’re going to be in your area and if they’re settling in or moving through it. And then if you’re just interested in this for a Lights Out reason, you can get our Local Bird Migration Alerts. You can just search your city, and it will take you to our Alerts page to see what’s going on in the area. And that’s what this will look like. So we can see on the Alerts page that tonight in Houston, Texas, there will be high migration. And we would advise that, first of all, you go out and look and listen for birds if you’re trying to bird[watch].

>> [Laughter].

>> And second of all, that you turn off your lights for a night. So we have a couple of different pages for alerts, because we have a couple of different projects they apply to. So this is the general migration page, with text that is specifically written for birders and provides context for that. However we also have a migration page for Lights Out. And you can find that and more information about Lights Out under our Science to Action tab, which talks about our conservation efforts. Here on our Lights Out page, there’s just a lot of general information as well as a link to Dallas and Houston alerts. And if you click from here, you’ll go to alert.birdcast.info slash lightsout, rather than slash birdcast, and you’ll receive information about Lights Out specifically, as well as a place to subscribe to alerts. So if you click this button which is available, again, on the Lights Out version of our alert page, then you’ll have the option to subscribe to alert by email for Dallas or Houston. And what that will do is, we’ll send you an email directly to your in box whenever a high alert is triggered, so you don’t have to check that yourself. You can just check your email inbox. However, the alerts will be up so you’re welcome to check the app yourself for your city.

>> Okay. Excellent. So just to be clear, the only alerts that you have that email sign-up for right now, are Houston and Dallas?

>> Right. Because that’s currently where we’re working, yes.

>> Right. So people can search for their city wherever they live, but they do have to take the step of actually going to the website and searching for it, as opposed to signing up for emails.

>> Yes. We’re hoping to additional cities in the future. It’s just you know, we’re just rolling out these alerts now. So we’re working primarily with stakeholders in the Dallas and Houston and Fort Worth areas, and we wanted to make sure they had a really easy way to look at things. But with enough popular interest, we are definitely interested in expanding our email notification system in the future to more cities and more areas.

>> Excellent. And I’m sorry if you just said this and I missed it, but… Just a reminder that there are Lights Out campaigns organized by different organizations, for cities all over the place. Julia, do you know offhand, if any of them have email alerts like these set up?

>> I am not personally aware of any, besides Houston Audubon’s, but it is entirely possible that other Lights Out campaigns have some sort of notification system. I think it’s not super likely, because it’s really the Lab doing major forecasting. So your best bet is probably to go onto our alert page and search your city, if you’re interested in seeing what migration looks like that night. I do think that if you are located outside of Texas and you’re interested in Lights Out, though, it’s a great idea to look at what your area has in terms of Audubon chapters or Lights Out campaigns, and reach out to connect with them.

>> Excellent. Okay. So I think we should get to some of the audience questions here. And one of the questions in the Q&A that I’m seeing is do we know why businesses in tall towers or skyscrapers — it just disappeared on me! — Why tall towers and skyscrapers have a lot of lights left on all night, even when there’s nobody in the building, and can they be convinced to turn off lights based on these Lights Out alerts.

>> Yeah. Sorry, there was a little bit of lag there. Why do building skyscrapers have a lot of lights on at night when no one’s there, and can we convince them to turn off the lights? Is that the question?

>> Yeah, I think that was the gist of the question.

>> Okay. Solid. So basically, the majority of lights on building facades at night are actually decorative. So that’s a major point that we’re interested in, because as cute as they are, it’s a major problem for birds. We’re interested in turning off all decorative lighting, especially upward facing lighting, on building facades that night. There’s just a habit really, of people being accustomed to looking at cities at night and thinking that light is beautiful and means progress, when in fact there are a lot of ecological impacts that are still being studied and that we’re still trying to understand. At this point we’re trying to educate building owners and managers about those impacts, and get them aware of it, so they’ll turn off the facade lighting when it’s not necessary. We’ve seen examples of successes there, in cities like Toronto and Chicago. In Chicago for instance, they have a great relationship with the local building owners and managers association, and get most of the Chicago skyline turned off every spring and fall for all of migration. And so we’re trying to establish that same thing here in Houston and Dallas now.

>> Excellent. There is a similar question about universities. Some universities have said that they don’t want to turn off lights at night because of issues related to student safety. Are there compromises there? Is that an issue you’ve come across?

>> Not so far as we know. So that is an issue that is often raised to us, concerns about public safety when lights are off or are lowered. But it’s a bit of a conflation for numerous reasons. The studies that are out there about public safety and crime and lighting, show that — well can’t show, essentially, that the public is safer when there’s more lighting. And in fact there’s often an issue with over-lighting, where glare makes it harder to see people and obstacles, much in the way as when you’re driving and someone’s headlights are way too bright, you can’t see anything coming and it actually makes it more dangerous. So what we’re trying to let people know is that, it’s not about removing all lighting. And street level lighting generally isn’t even effective. It’s about turning off purely decorative lighting, typically at higher levels, and upward facing lighting that doesn’t really illuminate down and wouldn’t be a protection against crime anyway. And so public safety shouldn’t be affected, and it isn’t as extreme as it sounds. We’re not asking that it be totally dark. A lot of this can be fixed just by switching over from super bright lights to a light that’s more yellow or red and doesn’t affect birds as much.

>> Having shielded or downward-facing lights, does that help as well? That was another question.

>> That helps as well, yeah. And in terms of both tall buildings and residences, pulling drapes also helps at night so that light doesn’t escape. So there’s a lot of guidelines that we’ve put out, both on our website and that you can find on other Lights Out’s campaigns websites, that can help identify which are the lights that need to be turned off. But we don’t believe at this point there’s any evidence of a public safety impact. And there are modifications that you can make, without removing all the lights, in order to ensure that people are comfortable, they can see where they’re going and the birds are still safe.

>> Thank you for making that point that it’s not an all or nothing thing. You’ve also mentioned — so we’ve talked about big building likes skyscrapers, we’ve talked about big institutions like universities, but you’ve also mentioned houses and residences. If I don’t have control personally over anything but my own house, my own light switches at home, does me turning out the lights actually have an impact?

>> It does. Absolutely. So I think that things like wind turbines get a lot of press in terms of bird collisions. What we don’t talk about enough is the fact that residences also kill a lot of birds every year, which is very sad and unfortunate. But on the bright side it means that everyone can make an impact, whether that be through drawing blinds so that light doesn’t escape, or turning off their porch light during migration season on peak migration nights. There’s something you can do. So for a better visualization of this issue we actually have this graphic that I can show you guys real quickly, so you have the sense of the impact on residences on bird collisions. Let me just pull that up. So here is the estimated annual mortality from collision threats to birds. We get asked about wind turbines a lot, but wind turbines account for about 366,000 bird mortalities each year. Whereas tall buildings account for about 340 million and residences account for actually around 253 million. And so if you would like to contribute, turning off your lights at night absolutely helps. It absolutely is something that is going to make an impact. And we would love it if you would do that and tell your neighbors about it. And invite them to do the same. Share our video.

>> Excellent. Thank you. I want to point out since you brought upwind turbines, that is another thing that BirdCast could potentially help with mitigation efforts for in the future. That’s something that’s being looked into. But as you saw there, tall buildings outweigh wind turbines about a factor about a thousand, and then residences as well are also much bigger. So we are just about out of time here unfortunately. We only got a half an hour for today’s webinar. And this is so interesting we could definitely go much longer, right? I apologize because there’s way more questions here than we’ve been able to get to. However, — sorry. Bear with me here I’m getting lost in all the windows I have opened. Unfortunately I believe we have to wrap it up now because we are running out of time. So I want to be respectful of everyone’s time here. So, Julia, thank you so much for talking with us today and thanks for all of your work on developing the Lights Out Texas campaigns and alerts.

>> Thank you very much for having me. This was great.

>> Excellent. Thank you. I also want to thank our audience or joining us today. We’ve had an excellent turnout and it’s really great to see that. Again, I want to apologize that we didn’t get to everybody’s questions. But if we didn’t get to your questions today, please email us and we will be happy to follow-up with you individually. Let’s see. I have a slide here if I can get back to it, my apologies again.

>> Don’t worry I have 40 tabs open too. I feel the struggle.

>> Too many things going on here. So that’s not what I wanted. Where did my slide go? Here we go. I’m going to share my screen here. Here’s contact information if you would like to follow-up with us and learn more. So if you have general questions about the Cornell Cornell Lab of Ornithology, our programs, questions about birds, pretty much anything bird related, you can email our public information team at cornellbirds@cornell.edu . Questions about BirdCast and Lights Out you can also send to us and we will pass on as appropriate. Again, the links that we were showing you before for getting migration forecasts and alerts is birdcast.info and you can learn more about Lights Out specifically at birdcast.info.science-to-action/lights-out .

>> A mouthful. Thank you.

>> That is quite a mouthful.

>> [Laughter]

>> Okay. So that is our show. I hope you all enjoyed it. And I hope you’ll all keep an eye on BirdCast forecast maps and migration alerts as we make our way through another migration season. And when there’s a high migration near you, turn out those lights! Even if it’s just your own home, or draw the drapes in front of your windows. It really does help. So safe skies and happy birding everyone.

>> Thank you.

>> Take care. Thanks for joining us.

End of transcript

Every spring and fall, billions of birds migrate through the U.S., mostly under the cover of darkness. This mass movement of birds must contend with a pervasive but largely unrecognized threat: light pollution. Find out how artificial light endangers migratory birds and learn how you can help with Lights Out Project Coordinator Julia Wang.