Light Pollution

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10,000 Birds Trapped In the World Trade Center Light Beams

Posted on September 17, 2010 by Noel

Image credit: Robert Bejarano

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“This is a view of the 9/11 memorial lights. There’s something floating in them, gliding slowly with an eerie glow, giving them the look of unearthly portals to another dimension. Spooky, but it has a natural explanation.

They were thousands of birds, trapped into the beams, confused by the intense light while trying to go over New York City, en route to warmer climates. The birds saw the intense light from the distance and, lacking any other navigational reference in the sky, they went into it.

According to John Rowden, citizen science director at the Audubon Society’s New York chapter, “it has only happened once before. It’s a confluence of circumstances that come together to cause this. Some of it has to do with meteorological conditions, and some with the phase of the moon.”

About 10,000 birds were estimated to enter the beams, wasting time and energy that now can’t be used in their migratory trip. From the ground, people were surprised and confused by the display. Nobody could tell what the swarm of glowing points were. Ornithology experts recorded the bird voices, as they called in the middle of the night.

To liberate the birds, the NYC authorities had to turn off the beams five times over the night. By dawn, on September 12, all the birds were gone, on their way to their winter promised land.”

What a royal mess. If we are to learn anything from this event, it is proof that light pollution detrimentally affects wildlife. For if it weren’t for NYC authorities shutting down the beams multiple times, the birds would have remained trapped until the morning. Call it stupidity, if you wish, but these creatures have a natural propensity to use [un]natural light sources to guide them on their yearly migration. Sure, you could say this incident was clearly a ‘at the wrong place, at the wrong time’ kind of situation but consider the outcome carefully. If we continue to illuminate the sky at night, similar incidents such as this one are unavoidable. If we eradicate light pollution, we can reclaim the night sky.

Let there be night!

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