TX Skyscraper Turns Out Lights for Birds

TUESDAY, MAY 23, 2017

On the night of May 4, nearly 400 birds were killed after colliding with a skyscraper in Galveston, Texas. Now, owners of the American National Insurance Company’s 23-story building say they are turning out the lights.

What Happened

Sarah Flournoy, communities program manager for Houston Audubon, said the birds were migrating from Central and South America to their nesting grounds up north. The Houston area is a frequent stopping point for birds after they’ve crossed the Gulf of Mexico.

The night, the Galveston area experienced storms with high winds. Conservationists say that the storm might have forced the birds to fly lower than normal and the lights from the building could have disoriented the birds. Even if the birds tried to get around the building instead of confusing it for safety, the likelihood is that the winds knocked them into the side of the skyscraper.

Of the 395 dead birds there were 25 different species, including Nashville warblers, ovenbirds and American redstart.

“These are showy, beautiful birds that bird watchers really get excited to see,” said Richard Gibbons, conservation director at the Houston Audubon.

It’s unknown if all the birds were flying together or if they came in contact with the building at different times. And while collisions with manmade structures and windows kill up to a billion birds a year (usually in clusters of five to 12), both Gibbons and Josh Henderson, the animal control supervisor for the Galveston police, said they’ve never seen anything like what happened earlier this month.

“This is the largest event like this I have ever been a part of in over 10 years," said Henderson.

Gibbons described the event as “a freak accident” and called for tall buildings to limit lighting at night, which is exactly what will happen in Galveston.

What Now?

"Since the building's 45-year existence, no one could recall anything like this having occurred,” said Bruce LePard, the American National Insurance Company’s senior vice president and chief human resources officer. “… After contacting Houston Audubon, we determined the first thing to do was to make the building less of an attraction to migrating birds. So, we shut the lights off. It is a little strange to see the building in the dark after so many years of having it illuminated, but it is the right thing to do.”

The collected birds will be sent to Louisiana State University and Texas A&M University at College Station, where they will be studied.

"This dark cloud does have a silver lining, as the birds collected are a great representation of the migratory birds in our area at this time and they will not be simply disposed of," Henderson said. "These birds will be assessed and examined through the Audubon Society to determine the health of the birds prior to their demise, as there are countless streams of data that will help conservation efforts for these species.”

Among the hundreds of dead birds, three were found alive and were taken to the Wildlife Center of Texas in Houston for rehabilitation.

Gibbons said the organization is looking into an alert system for when bad weather is forecast during migration seasons, The system would ask high-rise owners to turn off the lights.

The conservancy says that other measures can be taken during construction, such as using fewer reflective materials or angling windows, or even in retrofit by just putting materials on windows.

Not the Only Building

Such alterations have been suggested over and over in Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium. An informal study done there released in March found 60 avian deaths during the 2016 fall migration.

That study, commissioned by the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis, the Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds, and the Friends of Roberts Bird Sanctuary, suggested etching patterns on the glass of the highly reflective building (a solution used at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan).

U.S. Bank Stadium is currently undergoing an official, $300,000 survey slated to end in 2019.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Building Envelope; Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Environmental Protection; Glass textile wallcovering; Latin America; North America

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.