This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today


New York dims its lights for birds

Photograph of birds flocking over Central Park in New York

Birds flock over Central Park. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/giovanni1232)

By James Dacey

It’s been a great week for birds – or at least those flying over the state of New York – after state governor Andrew Cuomo pledged to create safer migration routes for our feathered friends. All state buildings will now have to comply with a national US initiative that seeks to curb levels of light pollution, which can disorient birds and lead to huge numbers of avian deaths by “fatal light attraction”.

Many species of bird rely on the light from star constellations to help them navigate during spring and autumn migrations. Unfortunately, artificial light sources can throw the animals off course, and light reflected from glass can cause the birds to smack into windows, walls, floodlights and other hard surfaces. It is estimated that as many as a billion birds succumb to this cruel end each year in the US alone, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

New York is a particular hot spot for bird crashes given its high and expansive urban areas and the fact that it lies on the migration route known as the Atlantic Flyway. Many species of shore birds and songbirds make biannual voyages along this path, which stretches from eastern Canada down to Mexico and the Caribbean.

Acknowledging that something needs to be done about the issue, Cuomo has signed up to the New York State Lights Out Initiative – one of a series of state programmes promoted by Audubon, a US ecological society. All state-owned and -managed buildings will now have to turn off non-essential outdoor lighting from 11.00 p.m. to dawn during the times of peak bird migration: from 15 April to 31 May and 15 August to 15 November.

In the announcement on Monday, Cuomo also launched I Love NY Birding, a new website with information about birds in New York state and where to see them. “This is a simple step to help protect these migrating birds that make their home in New York’s forests, lakes and rivers,” he said.

This latest pledge appears to be part of an ongoing drive to address light-pollution issues in New York state. It follows recent legislation (that takes effect in December) that sees limits and restrictions on the types of lighting used on state-managed land to make lighting more efficient and to reduce the amount of glare.

Particularly outspoken among the campaigners for these changes are astronomers, who want to see a reduction in the amount of wasted light directed upwards to the skies, which obscures their view of the stars. The new legislation and the quest for dark skies in New York are highlighted in this recent short film produced for us by New York-based filmmakers Lucina Melesio and Aman Azhar. The short documentary brings a personal story to the Dark Skies Awareness campaign by following the amateur astronomer Irene Pease as she struggles to find a patch of darkness amid the dazzling lights of the Big Apple.


The campaign for dark skies is also one of the key themes of the International Year of Light (IYL 2015). See the IYL 2015 website for information about the range of initiatives taking place this year relating to light in the built environment. Also, check out our free-to-read digital collection of 10 of the best Physics World features related to the science and technology of light.

This entry was posted in General and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile


  1. Dileep Sathe

    Thank you New Yorkers for a good move to care for birds. I love birds, particularly, because of they have to think of X, Y and Z axes while flying. Best wishes for such moves in future from a Punekar.

  2. Trackback: Physics Viewpoint | New York dims its lights for birds

  3. We have “Lights Out Baltimore” that is a group of volunteers who monitor bird strikes, get injured birds to rehab. Dead ones are cataloged and provided for laboratory research.


  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="">IOP</blockquote>
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text