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Graveyard Of Skyscrapers: 226 Migratory Birds Dropped Dead In One Day In New York

A singing Song Sparrow. Photo: David Speiser

A singing Song Sparrow. Photo: David Speiser

Glass buildings and artificial lights cause the death of thousands of birds when they fly through big cities.

Millions of birds pass through New York every year. A variety of birds – raptors, hummingbirds, shorebirds etc. – migrate, covering a journey along the Atlantic flyway. And every year, almost 90,000 to 2,30,000 birds die while passing through this concrete jungle.

Melissa Breyer, an editor at the Tree Hugger, an environmental news platform, embarks on a drive every morning during the migratory season to collect dead birds’ carcasses and finds almost 25 to 30 birds lying on the street. However, this Tuesday was more unfortunate. Melissa found 226 carcasses on one day.

Sharing the tweet about her miserable morning experience, she uploaded the pictures of some birds she collected from the streets.

Melissa mentioned in the same thread that she picked up dead birds for “65 minutes straight” while doing the rounds around 3 and 4 World Trade Centre buildings.

But why do birds die while passing through New York?

Birds are not cognitive enough to identify clear glass or transparent glass as physical barriers. As a result, when they come across a glass building reflecting the sky, the birds collide with the glass with full velocity. Due to the impact, some birds die immediately, while some lose consciousness and die on hitting the ground.

Another reason is the abundant artificial lighting. Artificial lights have a tendency to disorient bird routes and lead them to follow the bright area in between their airspace, which leads to the phenomenon called Nocturnal Collision.

New York is filled with glass buildings and bright lights. Times Square is an apt example of how bright and tall buildings can be in New York. This leads to birds colliding with the skyscrapers and dying, especially migratory birds like songbirds who fly at night.

Why the sudden surge in numbers?

The reason for the proliferation in the number of birds dying might find roots in the recent weather condition, which forced the birds to fly at a lower altitude. The turbulent weather might also have disoriented the birds and caused them to fly lower. Another major influence is made by the Tribute in Light, the extremely bright beams of light lit in New York to pay tribute to the 9/11 attacks.

Melissa believes that easy measures can be taken to stop it from happening or at least curb it. The first and foremost is to switch off the lights in the buildings at night during the migratory season. Another measure involves designers covering the glass with some patterns so that it is identifiable by the birds.

Melissa continues to be a part of Project Safe Flight, which works for the migratory birds and encourages people to make bird-friendly buildings while keeping track of the deaths.

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first published:September 17, 2021, 18:46 IST