About The Project

By Joe Bartell


Each year one hundred million to one billion birds die during night migrations. Many small birds such as warblers, wrens, vireos, thrushes and tanagers migrate at night on their way either to their summer breeding grounds or to their wintering grounds. They face many hazards in both directions but tall lighted buildings have been shown to be one of the most dangerous.

It is thought that the lights on tall buildings confuse the navigation systems of birds unlucky to have such buildings in their flight path. They circle the buildings repeatedly and either die of exhaustion or by colliding with the illuminated building. According to scientists at the Field Museum in Chicago, their mortality could be reduced 80% if those building lights were off.

The Detroit Audubon Society is going to request building organizations, government agencies and property owners to reduce the carnage by turning off lights in tall buildings from 11:00 p.m. to dawn from the second weekend in March through May and from the second weekend in August through October.

Governor Jennifer Granholm showed her support of this effort by issuing a proclamation naming “Safe Passage Great Lakes Days” – March 15 through May 31, and August 15 through October 31. Detroit Audubon has been gratified to receive support also from DTE Energy and Ford Motor Company.

Detroit Audubon’s annual meeting (March 31, 2007) featured two nationally-recognized researchers who study the hazards that migrating birds face, one of whom is Daniel Klem, Ph.D.

In spearheading “Project Safe Passage,” Detroit Audubon is following the lead of cities such as Chicago, New York, and Toronto, which have similar programs. Toronto became the first North American city to dim tall building lights during spring and fall bird migrations. Chicago was the first United States city to follow suit. Michigan can become the first state to demonstrate its concern in a similar way.

However, it is not just a matter of saving the lives of avian migrants. Keeping those lights on means using a good deal of electricity, and that costs money. Further, the electricity used has an environmental cost: the generation of that electricity means that power plants are in operation, which contributes to air pollution.

So by turning out those lights, not only will birds be spared, but money and energy will also be saved, and pollution will be reduced. It can be a win-win-win situation for the environment, for building owners and managers, and for the birds.

Detroit Audubon welcomes the support of Michigan Audubon in the effort to inform people throughout our state of the benefits of simply turning out lights during the bird migration season. Several of the bird species at risk from these nighttime lights are declining in population. We can help reduce that risk by removing one major hazard. Spread the word.

Joe Bartell is a past president of the Detroit Audubon Society and has served on their conservation, membership and finance committees over the years. He held a position on the Michigan Audubon board in the 1960s. He is a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, in addition to many other world conservation and birding organizations.

If you are interested in volunteering with Safe Passage, please contact Ava Landgraf, our Research Coordinator at alandgraf@detroitaudubon.org