Project Safe Flight

Project Safe Flight

Yellow Warblers migrate through New York City, stopping in our parks to feed and rest. This beautiful species also nests in all five boroughs. Photo: Pat Schleiffer

Helping Birds Migrate Safely Through New York City

Every spring and fall, millions of birds migrate through New York City, journeying along the “Atlantic Flyway” from wintering territory in South and Central America to breeding grounds as far north as the Arctic Circle. As this huge variety of birds—from songbirds to raptors to hummingbirds to shorebirds—repeat their ancient cycle of migration, they encounter two relatively new threats: glass windows and artificial nighttime lighting. 
 
And the encounter is a deadly one: according to NYC Audubon’s research, between 90,000 and 230,000 of these migrating birds are killed in the City each year in collisions with building glass, a death toll to which artificial lighting contributes by disorienting nocturnally migrating birds.
The White-throated Sparrow, known for its sweet, plaintive song, spends the winter in New York City. It is the most frequently found collision victim here since 1997, according to Project Safe Flight data. Photo: John Pizniur/Great Backyard Bird Count
The White-throated Sparrow, known for its sweet, plaintive song, spends the winter in New York City. It is the most frequently found collision victim here since 1997, according to Project Safe Flight data. Photo: John Pizniur/Great Backyard Bird Count
The shy and well-camouflaged American Woodcock both migrates through and nests in New York City. Many woodcocks become bewildered as the attempt to navigate the City's terrain of glass and cement. This bird was taken to Manhattan's Wild Bird Fund to be rehabilitated. Photo: MaryJane Boland
The shy and well-camouflaged American Woodcock both migrates through and nests in New York City. Many woodcocks become bewildered as the attempt to navigate the City's terrain of glass and cement. This bird was taken to Manhattan's Wild Bird Fund to be rehabilitated. Photo: MaryJane Boland
The Common Yellowthroat, indeed a common migrant and breeding bird in New York City's wilder spots, is the most frequently found collision victim here, among the warber species. Photo: <a href="https://laurameyers.photoshelter.com/index" target="_blank">Laura Meyers</a>
The Common Yellowthroat, indeed a common migrant and breeding bird in New York City's wilder spots, is the most frequently found collision victim here, among the warber species. Photo: Laura Meyers

The Key Contributors to Bird Collisions

Glass
Birds do not detect clear glass as a barrier, nor do they understand reflections in glass. When they see habitat or sky either reflected in glass, or through it, such as in a courtyard, the birds collide at full speed. Many die on impact. New York City, with its skyscrapers and huge swaths of reflective glass, poses a particular threat to over 100 species of migratory birds, some of which are experiencing long-term population declines. Glass is the second-largest direct cause of bird mortality in the U.S.1 (second only to free-roaming domestic cats). Research indicates that across the entire U.S., 365 million to 1 billion birds are killed annually in collisions with windows.

Artificial Light 
A contributor to the problem of glass is artificial night-time lighting. Many birds, including most songbirds, migrate at night, and artificial light has been shown to attract and disorient them. When point sources of light, such as brightly lit skyscrapers and upward-facing beams, project into these birds' migratory airspace, the birds may be attracted to the glow. They may then be either injured as they flutter confusedly about the lights, or become exhausted and settle in inhospitable areas that make them more vulnerable to collisions. The urban glow from cities along migration routes can cause birds to orient towards and stopover in cities, potentially choosing lower quality habitat and heightening collision risk. 
 
NYC Audubon works to protect birds where the lighting hazard is clear and solvable, such as the Tribute in Light—while our research focuses on achieving a better understanding of the relationship between night-time lighting and bird deaths from collisions.

Since 1997, NYC Audubon’s formal collision monitoring has documented collisions of 113 bird species. Photo: Sophie Butcher "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Since 1997, NYC Audubon’s formal collision monitoring has documented collisions of 113 bird species. Photo: Sophie Butcher

Seeking Solutions: Project Safe Flight

In 1997, Project Safe Flight founder Rebekah Creshkoff found a dead Common Yellowthroat in the Financial District. Puzzled to find this beautiful songbird in such an unlikely spot, she investigated the problem and soon recruited early volunteers Allison Sloan, Ned Boyajian, and Kellie Quiñones to collect dead birds and monitor several buildings in downtown Manhattan. They discovered a problem much greater than they ever could have imagined. Project Safe Flight was born. 
 
Now over two decades old, it has grown to include several complementary components aimed to reduce bird deaths from window collisions in New York City: 
profiles2
Collision Monitoring
A stunned male Chestnut-sided Warbler is gently collected by a Project Safe Flight collisions monitor, before being taken to a rehabilitator. Photo: Sophie Butcher
A stunned male Chestnut-sided Warbler is gently collected by a Project Safe Flight collisions monitor, before being taken to a rehabilitator. Photo: Sophie Butcher
Dedicated Project Safe Flight volunteers walk regular routes during spring and fall migration to find dead and injured birds, contributing to our long-term data set in conjunction with our online dBird data-collecting tool. Our data helps to pinpoint the City’s deadliest buildings, and provides evidence we can use as we seek change—whether realistic solutions at specific buildings, or larger policy wins. 
Collision Monitoring
Dedicated Project Safe Flight volunteers walk regular routes during spring and fall migration to find dead and injured birds, contributing to our long-term data set in conjunction with our online dBird data-collecting tool. Our data helps to pinpoint the City’s deadliest buildings, and provides evidence we can use as we seek change—whether realistic solutions at specific buildings, or larger policy wins. 
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Bird-Friendly Building Design
The fritted design of bird-friendly glass at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center allows birds to see the building's glass and avoid collisions; since a renovation to the building, bird collisions have been reduced by as much as 90 percent. Photo: Stephanie Kale
The fritted design of bird-friendly glass at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center allows birds to see the building's glass and avoid collisions; since a renovation to the building, bird collisions have been reduced by as much as 90 percent. Photo: Stephanie Kale
We fight to enact city and state legislation that mandates bird-friendly building practices. Our most recent victory was the December 2019 passage of Int. 1482/Local Law 15 by the New York City Council. This milestone legislation requires that all new construction and significantly altered buildings use bird-friendly materials. We also educate and work with policy-makers, developers, architects, and building owners to reduce the hazards of glass and lights through the use of bird-friendly design principles.
Bird-Friendly Building Design
We fight to enact city and state legislation that mandates bird-friendly building practices. Our most recent victory was the December 2019 passage of Int. 1482/Local Law 15 by the New York City Council. This milestone legislation requires that all new construction and significantly altered buildings use bird-friendly materials. We also educate and work with policy-makers, developers, architects, and building owners to reduce the hazards of glass and lights through the use of bird-friendly design principles.
Learn More
Artificial Light
The New York City Skyline at night. Photo: Adriano BIDOLI/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/" target="_blank" >CC BY-NC-ND 2.0</a>
The New York City Skyline at night. Photo: Adriano BIDOLI/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
We work with research partners to better understand the impact of artificial night-time lighting on migrating birds, and its relationship to bird deaths from collisions with building glass. Though most collisions occur during the day, the amount of light emitted by a building is a strong predictor of the number of collisions it will cause. Following the recent passage of bird-friendly design legislation, NYC Audubon plans to advocate for legislation requiring a reduction in artificial night-time lighting during spring and fall migration. 
Artificial Light
We work with research partners to better understand the impact of artificial night-time lighting on migrating birds, and its relationship to bird deaths from collisions with building glass. Though most collisions occur during the day, the amount of light emitted by a building is a strong predictor of the number of collisions it will cause. Following the recent passage of bird-friendly design legislation, NYC Audubon plans to advocate for legislation requiring a reduction in artificial night-time lighting during spring and fall migration. 
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Tribute in Light Monitoring
Volunteers monitor the Tribute in Light Memorial. Photo: NYC Audubon
Volunteers monitor the Tribute in Light Memorial. Photo: NYC Audubon
Each September 11, we monitor the National September 11 Memorial & Museum’s Tribute in Light to prevent migrating birds from coming to harm. In addition to ensuring the Tribute is safe for birds, NYC Audubon collaborates with Cornell Lab of Ornithology at the site to further our understanding of the effects of artificial light on birds. Our research has demonstrated that the Memorial’s twin beams can attract bird densities up to 150 times higher than when the lights are not on. 
Tribute in Light Monitoring
Each September 11, we monitor the National September 11 Memorial & Museum’s Tribute in Light to prevent migrating birds from coming to harm. In addition to ensuring the Tribute is safe for birds, NYC Audubon collaborates with Cornell Lab of Ornithology at the site to further our understanding of the effects of artificial light on birds. Our research has demonstrated that the Memorial’s twin beams can attract bird densities up to 150 times higher than when the lights are not on. 
Learn More

Project Safe Flight Resources and References

Bird-Friendly Building Design: Based on NYC Audubon's Bird-Safe Building Guidelines, this 2019 update by the American Bird Conservancy in partnership with NYC Audubon is the most authoritative resource on this issue.
 
LEED Pilot Credit in Reducing Bird Collisions: NYC Audubon, Bird-Safe Glass Foundation, and the American Bird Conservancy successfully worked with the U.S. Green Building Council to create this pilot credit for sustainable buildings.

Bird Collisions with Windows: An Annotated Bibliography by Chad L. Seewagen and Christine Shepherd
 
 
Published Research Cited
1. Loss, S. R., Will, T., & Marra, P. P. 2015. Direct mortality of birds from anthropogenic causes. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 46:99-120.
 
2. Loss, S. R., Will, T., Loss, S. S., & Marra, P. P. 2014. Bird–building collisions in the United States: Estimates of annual mortality and species vulnerability. The Condor, 116: 8-23. 
 
Additional Published Research
Cabrera-Cruz, S. A., Smolinsky, J. A., & Buler, J. J. 2018. Light pollution is greatest within migration passage areas for nocturnally-migrating birds around the world. Scientific Reports, 8:3261. 
 
Gelb, Y., & Delacretaz, N. 2009. Windows and vegetation: primary factors in Manhattan bird collisions. Northeastern Naturalist, 16: 455-470.
Parkins, K. L., Elbin, S. B., & Barnes, E. 2015. Light, glass, and bird—building collisions in an urban park. Northeastern Naturalist, 22: 84-94.