Lights Out Across the Country

Audubon helps protect birds during migration, one switched-off light at a time.
A person walking on the street at night in an urban environment.
Window-collision monitor Stephen Maciejewski searches for injured or dead birds during his early morning rounds in downtown Philadelphia, October 21, 2021. Photo: Luke Franke/Audubon

Lights Out launched slightly more than 20 years ago in the United States, and over the last eight years or so has rapidly gained traction across North America. The goal of the program is simple: Get property owners, building managers, and local governments to shut off, shield, or dim all unnecessary lighting during spring and fall migration when billions of night-flying migratory birds make their way north and south, in an effort to reduce bird-building collisions. 

Recently, Audubon set a goal to bring Lights Out to the 20 most-dangerous metropolitan areas for migratory birds, considering artificial light at night and numbers of birds passing through in migration. As of today, we have worked with local stakeholders and Audubon chapters to make sure Lights Out programs are in 18 of those top 20, the latest of which were Nashville, Tennessee and Miami, Florida. All told, more than 45 cities are now implementing Lights Out, and a number of state-wide and regional Lights Out efforts are underway (see network). We are constantly working to bring more into the fold, as we increase awareness of the problem lights pose to birds and the simple solutions anyone can take to reduce collisions.

So what are our plans for Lights Out going forward and how do we plan to achieve them? For the next couple of years, we intend to work with local stakeholders to bring Lights Out to as many other localities as we can, including the remaining top cities. This could be as part of a coalition with building managers, like it is in Philadelphia, or it could be connected to a proclamation or ordinance from local government. 

As for how to get there? Audubon’s role in this work is three-fold. 

First, we work with local Audubon chapters and other partners to engage municipalities and property managers about the benefits of Lights Out, helping spearhead the efforts to bring the program to fruition. We provide training and guidance to Audubon chapter members on how to talk to legislators and other stakeholders and create materials that Audubon chapters can use to promote Lights Out in their area. And Lights Out works: Recent collision-monitoring data (keep reading to learn about that) showed that collisions declined by 70 percent at one site in the Lights Out Philly program. Replicated across dozens of buildings in dozens of municipalities means a lot more birds survive migration each year.

Secondly, we collaborate with chapters and other partners to engage in collision monitoring. Every migration, local volunteers survey areas around buildings and other built structures looking for dead or injured birds. Injured birds get sent to rehabbers, and Audubon or local partners can reach out to site owners or managers about collision-mitigation tactics like Lights Out protocols, bird-safe glass, and other voluntary options.

Thirdly, we proactively engage directly with building owners or property manager associations. The Lights Out Philly program has been especially successful in engaging this group of stakeholders to voluntarily bring Lights Out to a city. If you want to learn more about Lights Out Philly and its partnership with the Philadelphia chapter of the Building Managers and Owners Association and the Building Industry Association, go here. To read about some recently launched Lights Out programs, including Lights Out Philly, go here

As local Audubon staff and chapter leaders collaborate with municipalities, academic institutions, corporations, and non-profit partners to build and strengthen city-wide Lights Out efforts, we are working nationally to enhance these more broadly, as we foster and facilitate additional relationships. A national partnership with the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is helping to connect our Audubon chapters and local staff to IDA chapters, so that they can team up to protect the night sky from light pollution for the benefit of both birds and people, bringing together unique perspectives and expertise.

A collaboration with KPMG LLP is also helping us expand our reach and create new connections on the ground. As organizations like KPMG seek strategies to reduce their carbon footprint and promote environmental sustainability, Lights Out offers an opportunity for them to save energy while saving birds at the same time. In recent months, I’ve been working closely with a KPMG team to reach out to building managers across their U.S. offices to promote Lights Out and highlight the benefits to birds and people. In locations where Audubon has a local presence engaged in Lights Out, we are connecting these building owners and managers with chapter leaders and staff, to create more sustainable and meaningful partnerships.

This can be effective in two ways: It can help bolster Lights Out work in already established markets, convincing other local property owners to sign on to Lights Outs voluntarily, as getting voluntary concessions from cities and managers is frequently much more effective and popular than passing laws that mandate Lights Out. This kind of partnership also highlights the benefits to both local property owners and those in other towns, demonstrating that Lights Out isn’t onerous, it saves building owners and managers money, and it generates good press and goodwill. 

Want to know more about Lights Out and how to bring it to your area? Head here to learn more

Lights Out Achievements for 2022

Lights Out For Birds in Colorado

Last spring, Colorado Governor Jared Polis proclaimed April 2022 Lights Off for Bird Migration Month, just one year after the launch of Lights Out Colorado, which was started by Audubon Rockies, Denver Audubon, and International Dark-sky Association–Colorado.

Chapters pass five local Lights Out policies in North Carolina

Momentum is growing for Lights Out programs across North Carolina, thanks to advocacy from local chapters and campus chapters. Since last fall, five North Carolina cities—Asheville, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Matthews, and Raleigh—have adopted Lights Out programs to darken the night skies during migration.

Lights Out, Texas! campaign 

Earlier this year, Audubon Texas became the lead facilitator for the Lights Out Texas campaign. The state office worked with partners to produce all new outreach and social media toolkits, Spanish language resources, and much more. Due to that investment, #LightsOutTexas messages since the beginning of fall migration have reached more than eight million people online.

Many Audubon chapters are leading the way in Lights Out.  Throughout 2022, we highlighted several of these groups, including Wyncote Audubon (PA), Valley Forge Audubon (PA), Houston Audubon (TX), Bexar Audubon (TX), Tropical Audubon (FL), Appalachian Audubon (PA), Menunkatuck Audubon (CT), Cumberland-Harpeth Audubon (TN), Mesilla Valley Audubon (NM), Tucson Audubon (AZ), Sonoran Audubon (AZ), Desert Rivers Audubon (AZ), Maricopa Audubon (AZ), UNC Asheville Audubon on Campus chapter (NC), Blue Ridge Audubon (NC), and T Gilbert Pearson Audubon (NC).