FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Q.    What is the Lights Out Indianapolis program?

A.    Lights Out Indianapolis is a bird and energy conservation initiative begun by Amos Butler Audubon to reduce the number of birds killed due to collisions with buildings.  Partners in the initiative include the City of Indianapolis.  The mission of Lights Out Indy is preventing bird deaths and saving energy by promoting bird-safe buildings and reducing nighttime lighting.  The mission of Amos Butler Audubon is promoting the enjoyment and stewardship of the birds of central Indiana.

Q.    How does the program work?

A.    Lights Out Indianapolis is a voluntary program whereby building owners, managers, and tenants work together to ensure unnecessary exterior and interior lighting is turned off during peak bird migration periods.  Lighting used for security or safety is exempted from the program.

Q.    When are the peak bird migration periods?

A.    Building owners and managers will be asked to turn off unnecessary lighting between midnight and dawn from April 1 through May 31 for the spring migration period and between midnight and dawn from August 15 through November 15 for the fall migration period.  The vast majority of migrant birds pass through Indiana during these periods.  However, participants are encouraged to reduce their energy usage year-round.

Q.    Why do birds collide with buildings?

A.    Most birds migrate at night and can be drawn off course by tall, lighted structures in their flight path.  Scientists are not sure why this happens but it may be related to the fact that among many navigational clues, birds use the stars to stay on course.  Lighted high-rise buildings may simply confuse them.  Once among the lights, birds seem reluctant to fly out and become “trapped” in urban areas.   Sometimes they strike buildings/windows outright during the night.  However, the majority of the collisions take place during daylight hours when birds, which cannot perceive glass as an obstacle, fly into clear glass or windows that reflect vegetation.

Q.    Why does the program focus on high-rise buildings?

A.        The initiative targets tall buildings because they are the structures most likely to affect large numbers of migrating birds.  However, building owners and managers of any building, regardless of height, are encouraged to participate.  Birds cannot recognize glass as a barrier, and window strikes, which occur even at single-story buildings, are a leading cause of bird deaths.

Q.    Why aren’t buildings already turning off lights?

A.    There could be several reasons.  Many buildings were designed with architectural lighting to raise their prominence in the city skyline.  Cleaning crews often light several floors of a building at once rather than lighting one floor at a time and working from the top floor to the first floor.  Cleaning crews and tenants may simply fail to turn off the lights when they leave their office.  Most building owners and managers do not realize the extent of the problem and how much money is being wasted on unnecessary lighting.

Q.    How many birds die due to building collisions?

A.    The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has estimated at least 100 million birds die annually in the U.S. due to building collisions.  It is not known how many bird deaths are recorded annually in Indianapolis.  However, observations from many individuals clearly indicate that thousands of native birds die from building collisions in downtown Indianapolis.  As part of this initiative, research is underway to help quantify the number of bird deaths and species involved.  Between 2009 and 2012, Audubon volunteers noted 1,200 bird strikes in downtown Indianapolis with a majority of the birds being killed. This is just a fraction of the overall total as most birds are swept up by maintenance or are able to fly to landscaping where they subsequently die.

Q.    If building collisions are such a problem, why don’t I see dead birds on the sidewalk?

A.    Maintenance personnel are diligent in cleaning up bird carcasses before most pedestrians see them.  Additionally, many people will not notice a small songbird on the sidewalk.  In some instances, a variety of urban animal scavengers will devour or carry off carcasses.  Early mornings, holidays, and weekends are periods when maintenance is not working and the most likely time to witness dead and injured birds on the sidewalk.

Q.    How will I know if the program is effective?

A.    Studies across North America have shown dramatic decreases in bird deaths when unnecessary lighting is turned off.  Audubon is confident that bird lives will be saved based on findings in other cities. Ornithologists studying bird collisions at a single building in Chicago, both before and after their Lights Out program was initiated, determined that there was an 80 percent decrease in avian mortality after implementing the Lights Out program.  However, another goal of the initiative is to reduce energy usage.  Such cost savings will be evident in lower electrical bills.

Q:       Have similar programs been implemented elsewhere?

A:     Yes.  In addition to Indianapolis, Boston, Chicago, Toronto, New York, Baltimore, Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul all have similar programs and others are under consideration.

Q.    Will the program benefit starlings?

A.    No!  Lights Out Indy is likely to have zero impact on the overall starling population because they are two distinct issues.  The starling population is at its peak in downtown Indianapolis at times outside of the Lights Out Indy program dates.  Starlings are not affected by building collisions as extremely few are killed in this manner.  The types of birds being killed are beneficial and beloved species such as members of the warbler family.   We at Lights Out Indy believe that following Lights Out Indy guidelines year-round may benefit individual building owners and managers.  One of the reasons why starlings may be attracted to downtown Indianapolis is the intense lighting in certain areas which provides increased warmth and safety for the birds.  Extinguishing unnecessary exterior lighting and certain interior lighting may deter starlings from perching on individual buildings or locations.

Q.    If the program is voluntary and building owners and managers can save on their energy costs while saving the lives of numerous birds, why wouldn’t everyone want to participate?

A.    Good question!

Q.    How can my building participate?

A.    It’s simple.  Just complete the online form.