LIGHTS OUT CLEVELAND, is part of a growing international urban movement to protect migratory birds endangered by city lights. A partner of the statewide Ohio Lights Out, It inaugurated its first season monitoring bird migrations in 2014.  It is part of a collaborative effort between citizen scientists who collect dead or injured birds, researchers at national universities who collect data on bird strikes, regional wildlife organizations that train volunteers and rehabilitate birds, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, and local businesses committed to reducing light pollution during peak migratory seasons.

Each year millions of birds migrate through Ohio where lights on tall buildings can disorient them and cause them to strike windows or circle the buildings until they fall from exhaustion. Ornithologists had published the first surveys of bird migration flyways over the Great Lakes in Audubon Magazine in the 1960s, just as public appetite for ecology spiked following the success of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.  Initially, most environmental activism focused on air and water pollution, but with the founding of the International Dark-Sky Association in 1988, the effects of light pollution gained public attention. The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) in Toronto formed in 1993 and Lights Out Chicago brought awareness of the effects of light pollution to the United States in 1995. In response to mounting evidence of the destructive effects of light pollution as well as the success of campaigns to reduce risk to migrating birds Lights Out Cleveland inaugurated its first season monitoring bird migrations in 2014.

The combination of light pollution and reflective building materials confuse migratory birds leading to collisions with buildings during the night. Lights Out Volunteers patrol downtown Cleveland from 5 a.m. through 8 a.m. during the Spring (March 15-June 1) and Fall (August 15-October 31) migration seasons. In its first four seasons (2014-2018), Lights Out Cleveland collected approximately 5,000 dead or injured birds off the streets of the greater Cleveland area. Approximately 1,600 survived rehabilitation and were successfully banded and released. Dead birds are placed in cold storage and made available to researchers and wildlife organizations. Birds collected by Lights Out Cleveland compose approximately 10% of the ornithological collection at the CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. The Lake Erie Nature and Science Center rehabilitates, bands, and releases injured birds and the Wildlife Center at Lake Metroparks rehabilitates any bats collected by Lights Out Cleveland volunteers. The CLEVELAND METROPARKS helps to recruit the 50-60 volunteers necessary for the monitoring program. 

In addition to the monitoring, Lights Out Cleveland also works with local businesses to reduce light pollution from midnight through dawn. Thirteen buildings now participate, including FIRST ENERGY STADIUM, PROGRESSIVE FIELD, Fifth Third Center, and the Skylight Office Tower.

Jonathan Wlasiuk



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