The world and travel changed forever on September 11, 2001. Since then we’ve learned to navigate shifting security rules before boarding a plane and we have not forgotten images of airliners crashing into the World Trade Center. Surprisingly a tribute to lives lost that day has created opportunities for avian science and conservation.
Where the Twin Towers once stood there is a memorial – Tribute in Light – that shines two beams of light into the sky each September 11. Wildlife lovers noticed the large beams – each with 44 xenon bulbs of 7,000 watts – were having a dramatic impact on birds.
September is prime time for bird migrations but birds are attracted to light, especially the powerful beams of Tribute in Light. Birds slow down, circle in the light, and call more frequently. This wastes energy and increases the risk of colliding with buildings or being killed by predators. When the Tribute is illuminated 60 to 150 times the number of birds normally found in the area can gather.
The New York Audubon Society reached out to tribute organizers in 2002 to make them aware of the problem and develop a protocol for turning off the lights for twenty minutes when more than 1,000 birds are seen circling (within minutes of turning off the lights birds continue their migration).
The memorial has provided scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the University of Oxford a unique research opportunity. A study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proves that artificial light at night causes radical change in migrating bird behavior.
It remains to be seen if this study will encourage tourism facilities to dim their lights but Andrew Farnsworth, Research Associate of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who explains to visitors why the Tribute in Light monument goes dark has an interesting observation. He finds most people, after their initial concern that the attraction is broken, just want to talk about the loss of a loved one.
Maybe illuminating the sky isn’t always critical to visitor experience and we can balance wildlife needs with the desire to entertain. Hopefully other attractions will soon give thought to non-human users of night skies.
Making a night-time attraction better for birds. Click to Tweet.
Discover how the Tribute in Light is affecting bird migrations. Click to Tweet.
Will this study about artificial light & migrating bird behaviour be enough to encourage change? Click to Tweet.