Early Tuesday morning, Melissa Breyer set out to do her usual volunteer work — collecting the bodies of migratory birds who had died colliding with skyscrapers in downtown Manhattan.
That morning was much worse than usual. In just over an hour, Breyer picked 226 tiny, lifeless bodies off the sidewalks around the World Trade Center. Another 35 had died but fallen onto inaccessible awnings. Thirty were still alive in need of veterinary aid and were transferred to the care of a wild bird rehabilitation center.
“When you have 226 dead window-struck migratory birds from one morning, it’s hard to get them all in one photo,” she wrote on Twitter, with a picture showing dozens of birds, many of them warblers, in all shades of yellow, brown and grey.
“Lights can be turned off, windows can be treated. Please do something,” she pleaded.
In New York City, between 90,000 and 230,000 birds are killed each year when they collide with building glass, according to research by NYC Audubon, the group that runs “Project Safe Flight,” the volunteer operation Breyer participated in.
Nationwide, a study from 2019 found that the number of bird deaths caused by building collisions could be as high as one billion.
Fatal collisions spike twice a year during migration seasons, when birds migrate through big cities on their way to and from their winter habitats in Central and South America.
“Birds are driven off course by light pollution. They’re often attracted to bright city lights,” said Sirena Lao, a researcher at the San Francisco Bird Observatory, speaking to NPR earlier this year. “So birds will veer off course and fly towards these cities, which leads them to even more hazards.”
As a result, wildlife advocates have long advocated for dimming unnecessary lights during migratory seasons — a call that has been renewed this week by bird groups in New York after Tuesday’s mass die-off.
Wild Bird Fund, a rehabilitation center based in New York, received more than 70 injured birds on Tuesday, including the ones collected by Breyer.
“There is an easy measure that could be implemented today to reduce the staggering bird mortality happening across our city: Turn off all unnecessary lighting, from 11PM-6AM through Nov. 16,” the group tweeted.
The World Trade Center responded to Breyer’s tweets, thanking her for bringing the issue to the facility’s attention.
“We are actively encouraging our office tenants to turn off their lights at night and lower their blinds wherever possible and are investigating additional precautions,” the company wrote.
Jordan Barowitz, a spokesperson for the Durst Organization, co-developer of One World Trade Center, told The Associated Press in an email, “The first 200 feet of One WTC are encased in glass fins that are non-reflective. This design was chosen because it greatly reduces bird strikes which mostly occur below 200 feet and are frequently caused by reflective glass.”