NYC Eyes Building Light Changes to Reduce Bird Deaths

Hundreds of thousands of birds die from building collisions in New York City each year

NYC skyline
New York City's buildings might look a little different at night if a new law is passed.
Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

How many migratory birds do you think die as a result of collisions with New York City’s buildings every year? That number is a staggering 230,000 — and it’s prompted a group of lawmakers to take action to see if this number can be dramatically reduced through a new law. As Gothamist’s Tatum McConnell reports, birds taking part in their annual migration have a tendency to fatally crash into the sides and windows of buildings.

A new bill sponsored by four members of the New York City Council would, as per its description, “prohibit nighttime illumination of the exterior or interior of any building whose main use or dominant occupancy is classified in group B or M pursuant to the New York City building code.” (Those group designations refer to businesses and stores, more or less.) The bill goes on to note that landmarked buildings could apply for a waiver, and that small stores would be exempt.

Gothamist’s reporting cites a Chicago study that suggests that reduced light in buildings leads to a significant reduction in bird collisions. In 2021, the New York City Council passed a similar measure that applied to city-owned buildings. It’s not yet clear if this new bill will pass, however.

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New York and Chicago aren’t the only cities where migrating birds have been placed in danger due to building lights; a 2021 campaign in Philadelphia also sought to reduce nighttime lighting for similar reasons. A 2017 Bloomberg article bore the alarming headline “Urban Lights Are Confusing Birds to Death” — and this initiative in New York City bears watching to see if it can serve as a model for cities elsewhere.

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