Lights Out for Birds

Most birds migrate at night and can be drawn off course by tall, lighted structures in their flight path. Scientists aren’t sure why this happens but it may be related to the fact that among many navigational cues, birds use the stars to stay on course.

Drawn by bright city lights, birds sometimes collide with buildings or rooftop structures. Other times they circle lighted building until they drop from exhaustion.

Over 250 species migrate through San Francisco Bay, many of them small songbirds such as warblers, thrushes, tanagers and sparrows that migrate at night. Some are threatened species whose populations already show steep declines.

Ironically, common city birds such as Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows are infrequent collision victims. This may be due to these species’ adaptations for living among buildings.

Turning out lights can help birds…

A study by the Field Museum in Chicago found that turning off the lights at one downtown high-rise reduced migratory bird deaths there by 80 percent.

…as well as people, business and the environment. 

In addition to saving birds, Lights Out programs save a considerable amount of energy. Turning off a single 100-watt bulb from dusk until dawn saves an average of 417 kwH of electricity, or $46 a year in bulbs and electricity costs. (Data are national averages from the Dark Sky Society).

One participating municipal building in the Toronto Lights Out program reported cost savings of more than $200,000 in 2006. By reducing energy usage, Lights Out programs also help reduce pollutants such as carbon dioxide, and help moderate the impact of climate change.

How does Lights Out work?

Lights Out is a voluntary program where building owners, managers and tenants work together to ensure that any and all unnecessary lighting is turned off during Lights Out dates and times:

  • February 15 through May 30 for spring migration.
  • August 15 through November 30 for fall migration.

What Building Owners and Managers Can Do

  • Turn off building lights from dusk until dawn during migration season
  • This includes internal lighting, external decorative lights and lobby or atrium lights. (Security lights should be left on as needed for safety.)
  • Install timers and motion detectors to minimize use of lights at night. PG&E offers rebates of $5 to $50 for each new occupancy sensor you install, and rebates of $15 for each indoor timer. Check with your PG&E representative for information, or see PG&E’s catalogue of rebate opportunities for business.
  • Share the Lights Out message with tenants and employees via flyers, newsletters and social media. Post our flyer in your building.
  • Sign up below as a Lights Out participant. This will help us track the program and its impact, as well as recognize your contribution to bird conservation!

What Employees Can Do

  • If you need to work at night, use task lighting rather than overhead lighting. Or draw the blinds or drapes.
  • Talk to your employer and co-workers about Lights Out.
  • Post Lights Out information in your office or on Facebook. (See poster, fact sheet and sample social media messages below.)


Lights Out fact sheet – print this out or share the link

Lights Out Poster – print this out and post it on bulletin boards, elevators etc. where employees will see it.

Lights Out – Social Media – sample messages for newsletters and social media.

Lighting Cost Calculator – This web page from the Dark Sky Society lets you estimate how much electricity, money and pollution you could save by turning off lights at night or installing a motion sensor.

Lighting Rebates for Business – catalogue from PG&E that includes rebates for installing motion sensors and light timers.

Bay Area Migrants – article from Bay Nature magazine highlighting a few of the 250+ bird species that migrate through or winter in the Bay Area each year.

Lights Out en Español

Lights Out for Birds en Español from Golden Gate Audubon Society on Vimeo.

 Participants include:

  • 101 California Street, San Francisco
  • Allsteel Inc.,  San Francisco
  • Barker Pacific Group, Inc. San Francisco
  • New Resource Bank, San Francisco
  • Pacific Gas & Electric Company, San Francisco
  • San Francisco Municipal Buildings and Agencies including:
    • City Hall
    • Dept.of the Environment, 1455 Market Street
    • Dept.of Public Works 25 and 30 Van Ness and 1680 Mission Street
    • Municipal Transportation Agency, One South Van Ness
    • San Francisco Planning Dept., 1650 and 1680 Mission Street
    • Public Defender, 555 7th Street
  • Tishman Speyer, San Francisco

Sign up today:  click here