Eco-Challenge: How Turning Out the Lights Saves More than Energy!

“Who left all these lights on, whattaya think money grows on trees?” This is something many of us heard at least a thousand and one times as a kid. Now if you have children of your own you’ve likely yelled something similar only these days you likely yell something more like, “do you think our energy supply is limitless?” We all know that you can conserve energy and save money by turning out lights where they aren’t needed, but did you know that you could also be saving birds? Many birds migrate at night and are often led off course by bright lights.

Scientists don’t quite understand how they navigate, but one thought is that birds may use the stars as one of their many sign posts during their long journey. The bright lights of the urban landscape likely confuse weary travelers leading them off course and into possible building strikes. Conservative estimates based on the best available data suggest a minimum of 100 million birds throughout North America are killed by colliding into buildings each year. After habitat destruction, building collisions are thought to be the leading cause of death of native bird species. Often, migrating birds are lured toward
the lights of buildings and then get stuck, just as a moth would, in a pattern of flying around these lights until exhausted and vulnerable.

So what can we do? We can start by turning off as many of those lights as possible. Give the night back to the birds, as well as all our other nocturnal neighbors! A study by the Field Museum in Chicago found that turning off the lights at one downtown high-rise reduced migratory bird deaths there by 80 percent.

Many cities and municipalities across North America have started “Lights Out” programs, urging businesses and buildings to adjust how they go about lighting their properties at night. One participating municipal building in the Toronto Lights Out program reported cost savings of more than $200,000 in 2006. By reducing energy usage, Lights Out programs also help reduce pollutants such as carbon dioxide, and help moderate the impact of climate change. In addition to saving birds, Lights Out
programs save a considerable amount of energy. Turning off a single 100-watt bulb from dusk until dawn saves an average of 417 kwH of electricity, or $46 a year in bulbs and electricity costs. See, the birds aren’t the only ones who benefit from cutting unnecessary light usage!

How about at home, what can you do? Use timers and motion sensors on lights that are infrequently used. Contact building owners in your city or town and urge them to consider a Lights Out program of their own. Spread the word about Lights Out program, write to local papers, get it out on social media, contact your local governments and tell them know that this is important to you and so many other people… and most of all, the birds!


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