Lights-out bill for NYC buildings aims to save birds

Measure expands on law passed for government buildings

Councilmember Francisco Moya; New York skyline; birds
Councilmember Francisco Moya (Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty)

This bill’s for the birds.

New York City Council member Francisco Moya has reintroduced a bill requiring privately owned commercial buildings to go dark at night, Gothamist reported. The bill was introduced two years ago, was opposed by the Real Estate Board of New York and never made it to a vote.

Moya’s bill calls for both the interior and exterior lights of commercial buildings to be turned off at night if they are empty, which supporters say would reduce the number of birds crashing into facades. A similar bill passed two years ago, but only applied to city-owned buildings.

Bird deaths increase in the city each year during their migrations south for winter or north for summer, as some are drawn to or disoriented by lighted buildings. Millions of birds migrate through the city each year, and NYC Audubon estimates 230,000 are killed by smashing into glass. (Free-ranging cats are a larger threat, as they kill up to 3.7 billion birds worldwide annually.)

Under Moya’s measure, if anyone were present in a building, the mandate wouldn’t apply. Small stores would be exempted, as would buildings with landmark status or demonstrated security requirements. If nighttime illumination is already required at a property, those lights can stay on too.

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A recent study in Chicago found that turning off half the lights in a building can significantly reduce bird collisions. A lights-out bill could also spare humans from the effects of light pollution, such as interruption of the body’s circadian rhythm.

Other municipalities are exploring ways to mitigate migratory bird deaths. A law proposed in the District of Columbia last year would require new buildings to use “bird-friendly” materials that make glass less reflective and more perceivable to birds.

The law passed and will take effect in October 2024, according to the American Bird Conservancy.

Holden Walter-Warner

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