Tribute in Light Monitoring 2017

Tribute in Light 2017 © Sean Sime

Tribute in Light 2017 © Sean Sime

Every year on September 11, two beams of light illuminate the sky over Manhattan, reminding New Yorkers and the nation to pause in remembrance of those who lost their lives on 9/11/2001. New York City Audubon has monitored this important and touching tribute since 2002 to ensure it is safe for migrating birds. The beams, created using 88 7,000-watt xenon spotlight bulbs, can attract large numbers of night-migrating birds in some years. Once in the powerful beams the birds can become “trapped” and circle the lights, putting them at risk of exhaustion, disorientation, and injury. If a critical mass of birds is spotted circling at any point throughout the night, NYC Audubon works in partnership with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and Michael Ahern Production Services to turn off the lights for roughly 20 minutes, which allows the birds to disperse.

 

NYC Audubon staff, board members, and 35 volunteers worked together in small teams to count birds for the 10-hour duration of the tribute. Our volunteers logged a collective 137 hours of monitoring!

Volunteers Monitoring the Tribute in Light for Birds © Sean Sime

Volunteers Monitoring the Tribute in Light for Birds © Sean Sime

This year we were able to station additional observers adjacent to and 28 stories above the tribute monitoring site thanks to our friends at the Battery Rooftop Garden. This new vantage point allowed us to validate the counts taken at the monitoring site below and observe the birds from a different angle.

 

Peak migration activity typically occurs around midnight, so we were surprised to see the number of birds quickly grow at 9pm. By 9:40pm, the birds were flying low enough that their night-flight calls were audible.

Birds Trapped in the Tribute in Light

Birds Trapped in the Tribute in Light 2017

The lights were turned off at 9:49pm to allow the birds to disperse. When we counted over 1,000 birds at 10:55pm, the lights were shut off for a second time. The lights were switched off for a third and final time when low-flying birds became a problem at 12:30am.

 

We confirmed in each instance using radar that the birds had left the area before the lights were turned on again. All of us at the tribute breathed a sigh of relief when bird numbers dwindled after 1am and the birds that were present appeared to pass through the beams without becoming trapped. The lights remained on until 6am.

 

We observed many of the species that we have become accustomed to seeing in the beams, such as black-and-white warblers, northern parulas, Baltimore orioles, and American redstarts. There were also some more notable observations, including a hunting American kestrel, chimney swifts, yellow-billed cuckoos, a hummingbird, and a downy woodpecker that landed on the ledge of a nearby building.

 

Predaceous Diving Beetle Seen at Tribute in Light 2017

Predaceous Diving Beetle Seen at Tribute in Light 2017

In addition to monitoring birds, we monitored bats for the second year in a row. We also added an arthropod collection component. Andrew Farnsworth and his team from Cornell joined us on the roof to record night-flight calls and monitor the birds with radar. Among the insects collected this year were a praying mantid, numerous lady beetles, and predaceous diving beetles (pictured). We also saw and recorded the echolocation calls of several eastern red bats that were taking advantage of the insects congregated in the lights.

 

Be sure to check out NYC Audubon’s Facebook page or our Twitter page for more photos and video from the event. To learn more about the work NYC Audubon does to protect migrating birds, visit our Project Safe Flight page. New York City Audubon’s Project Safe Flight program is made possible by the leadership support of the Leon Levy Foundation.

 

-Kaitlyn Parkins, Conservation Biologist

 

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