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Climate activists ask people to turn off lights, close blinds to prevent '1 billion birds' from dying from crashing into windows

Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

An environmental activist group from Baltimore, Maryland, asked citizens to make their city "bird safe" in order to prevent more than "1 billion birds" dying per year from flying into closed windows.

The bird group Audubon told WBAL-TV that "lighting and reflectivity, specifically during migration for birds, is a really dangerous problem and kills up to 1 billion birds in North America per year."

Erin Reed Miller, whose title at Audubon is senior coordinator for bird-friendly communities, said that she and another community activist collect 500 birds every four months from around approximately 25 buildings in Baltimore.

"We are just walking four months out of the year, 25 buildings, and we collect between 450 to 500 birds, and that's just 25 buildings," said Lindsay Jacks, director of Lights Out Baltimore, another bird protectionist organization.

Reed Miller and Jacks are both part of a new network of organizations called Bird-Safe Baltimore. The group has a stated goal to decrease the number of bird deaths from collisions with glass.

Bird-Safe Baltimore suggested homeowners "turn off unnecessary lights at night" and "close blinds, curtains" among other recommendations.

The group is also asking businesses to choose to erect their buildings with bird-safe glass, which is glass with patterns to make it more visible to birds.

How the activists arrived at an estimate of 1 billion birds per year is complicated, dating back to a meta analysis of studies in 2014. The abstract estimated that based on a review of 23 studies, between "365 and 988 million birds" are killed annually by "building collisions" in the United States.

Audubon also published a detailed report in 2014 on how various climate change models could negatively affect bird migration.

"By stabilizing carbon emissions and holding warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, 76 percent of vulnerable species will be better off," the group claimed.

When extrapolating the sample data of the Baltimore activists, the math to get up to 1 billion bird-collision deaths per year becomes murky.

The bird lovers said they find up to 500 dead birds around 25 buildings every four months; that's 1,500 birds per year at a rate of 60 birds per building.

To match the figure, that would mean approximately 16.6 million buildings in the United States are seeing an average of 60 birds drop dead via crashing into a closed window each year.

While this number seems astronomical, bird activists have consistently thrown around another figure related to bird deaths: 3 billion. This number is cited as the number of birds lost on the continent since 1970, with Audubon itself promoting the figure in 2019.

The 2019 number certainly implies that 3 billion bird deaths over the span of 49 years is a massive toll, even though it was already known in 2014 that more than 1 billion were crashing into windows and dying each year.

In 2009, 15 chapters of the Audubon Society joined a coalition to ask the Senate for a stronger climate bill. The group claimed an existing bill failed to "ensure a rapid transition to clean energy."

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