In October 2020, up to 1,500 birds collided with brightly illuminated skyscrapers in Philadelphia over a single night. It was the height of migration season, and dead birds lined the streets in the early morning hours. Some were found injured. Now, Lights Out, a new short film by the photographer and filmmaker Mike Fernandez, follows Keith Russell, the Program Manager for Urban Conservation at Audubon Pennsylvania, and Stephen Maciejewski, a volunteer at the Mid-Atlantic Audubon, as they race to protect the city’s birds.
Russell and Maciejewski monitor injured and dead birds in downtown Philadelphia is part of Bird Safe Philly, a collaboration between the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Audubon Mid-Atlantic, Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, the National Audubon Society, Valley Forge Audubon Society, and Wyncote Audubon Society. Many of these preventable deaths and injuries are caused by building collisions, with the birds being disorientation by reflections and bright lights.
During the spring and fall migratory seasons, Bird Safe Philly encourages the city to turn off or block out their lights as part of a voluntary program called Lights Out. Building owners, tenants, residents, and businesses are all welcome to participate. From 5:30 to 8:00 AM, Russell and Maciejewski can be found around the city, checking buildings for possible collisions.
In cases where the birds are alive, they bring them to rehabilitation for care and recovery. The bodies of birds who have died go to the Academy of Natural Sciences, where they will then join the scientific collection of the ornithology department. The information surrounding their lives and deaths will continue to be studied for years in hopes of protecting future generations of birds.
Up to a billion birds are killed every year in the United States due to building collisions. The work being done by Russell, Maciejewski, and the Bird Safe Philly team provides a potential path forward. Turning out our blocking our lights at night is one simple thing we can all do to prevent mass collision events in the future, whether we live or work in a skyscraper or a single-story building.
In Philadelphia, Lights Out is happening now and runs through November 15th, 2023.
All images © Mike Fernandez