Lights Out North Carolina

Each morning, volunteers walk the city streets collecting and documenting bird species killed by collisions with specific buildings. 

During spring and fall migration, millions of birds pass through North Carolina, often flying at night. Many nocturnal migrants fly over urban centers on their way to their non-breeding homes, but unfortunately, when conditions like fog cause such birds to fly lower, they are attracted to building lights. They become disoriented, fatigued, and then collide into the windows. Studies show that upward-facing, bright lights can confuse birds that then become disoriented and collide with windows of tall buildings.

  • Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center researchers analyzed data from 23 cities estimating 365 to 988 million birds are killed each year in the U.S. 
  • In Chicago, research by Field Museum staff in demonstrated an 80 percent reduction in collisions when building lights were turned out. Each building dimmed, added up across the country, could add up to saving quite a few birds. 

Turning Out the Lights

Audubon North Carolina is partnering with chapters across the state to help darken the skies during migration and decrease bird deaths with the Lights Out North Carolina program. North Carolina’s three largest cities – Charlotte, Raleigh and Winston-Salem have already begun Lights Out programs with promising results. 

Volunteers walk the city streets collecting and documenting bird species killed by collisions with specific buildings. With this information, these volunteers then talk with building owners and property managers about turning out building lights from 11 pm to dawn during spring and fall migration. Already, five buildings in Winston-Salem turn their lights out for birds, reducing bird collisions by about half, and Audubon members in Charlotte and Raleigh are advocating for similar help for migrating birds.

As many as 40 percent of the migrating birds en route along the Atlantic Flyway have been designated for conservation concern. In North Carolina, the Wood Thrush has been named a priority bird and is of special concern for Lights Out volunteers because the species has shown a significant decline across its breeding range since the mid-1960s. The Wood Thrush faces continuing degradation and destruction of its forest habitat in the Eastern United States, including North Carolina, and this bird is highly susceptible to glass collisions on its migration path. 

Conservation and Education

Lights Out isn’t just about turning out the lights. Monitoring studies conducted during peak migration season identify which buildings pose the greatest threat to birds. Each morning, volunteers walk the city streets collecting and documenting bird species killed by collisions with specific buildings. Stunned birds often recover within a few hours and are released. Injured birds go to a federally licensed, local songbird rehabilitator. 

Dead birds are collected and donated to Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.The bird collection at the museum is one of the three largest of its kind in the southeastern United States, housing 20,000 specimens. Hundreds of birds have been delivered to the museum by Audubon volunteers. The birds are preserved and used in the permanent collection as sources of research or brought out for educational purposes.

In North Carolina, there are currently Lights Out programs in:

How To Help

Help make the skies a little darker during migration seasons. 

1. Turn off the lights outside of your home, especially upward-facing lights.

2. Close blinds and curtains at home and before leaving your office for the day. 

3. If you work in an office building, ask your employer to turn out exterior upward-facing lights, as well as interior office lights from 11 pm to dawn.

  • Spring migration season: March 15 - May 30
  • Fall migration season: September 10 - November 30

To learn how you can get involved with an active Lights Out program, contact your local chapter