In an impressive and unsettling display, over 10,000 migrating birds became stuck in the light-led vortex of the 9/11 tribute beams that momentarily paused their trip south. The New York City Audubon worked with the Municipal Art Society to turn off the Tribute of Light that annually springs from Ground Zero for 20-minute periods when the beams would become densely populated with birds. Runnin’ Scared caught up with Dr. John Rowden of the Audubon to discuss this most recent push to protect the city’s birds, 90,000 of which die annually from flying into bright skyscrapers, and to learn more about the plight of avian wildlife.
On 9/11 this year, Rowden stayed at Ground Zero for 12 hours to alert the Municipal Art Society as to when it was time to momentarily pull the plug on the light display so the birds could fly onward. Organizers had to flip the switch five times,
giving the birds 20 minutes each time to continue their south-bound flight.
“We didn’t know it was going to be so intense,” Rowden says. “I believe that we were able to get them out of there without really compromising them.” If the lights stayed on continuously, the birds would have been at risk of depleting fat stores for migration. “If we could help anything on that day, I think we would all try to,” Rowden says.
This year was the worst he had seen in terms of the tribute interfering with migration because of a “confluence of circumstances,” Rowden says. There was no moon to guide the birds Saturday night, and the winds had been unfavorable for migration at the beginning of the week, so more birds than usual mobilized at once on 9/11 and flew toward the bright lights.
The New York City Audubon’s Lights Out New York initiative, requesting that skyscrapers turn off their lights after midnight to avoid interference with migration, also received a lot of attention this year.
Suddenly, we’re all suckers for urban wildlife. Remember Sticky and the assassination of the Prospect Park geese? RIP. “That resonates with people that these birds that were part of the landscape of our city were exterminated. I think there is a connection in peoples’ minds,” Rowden says. “I think we need to take better care of the avian residents of our city.”
Let’s call it “Sticky’s Revolution.”