The "stars" in this photo are actually migrating birds circling around the 9/11 Tribute in Light memorial. The lights appear to draw the birds off their course, but thankfully the Municipal Art Society, which produces the memorial, is cooperating with NYC Audubon to minimize impact on these birds. When there's too many birds circling the beams, the MAS turns the lights off. This year (2013) the beams were turned off four times to allow the birds to reorient themselves and continue on their migration journey.
The twin beams shine a spotlight on a larger issue -- the effect that city lights have on migrating birds across North America. Birds appear to be attracted to light from skyscrapers and lit windows. One theory is that this artificial light mimics features in the night sky that birds normally use to navigate, like the stars and the moon. The result is that, for the many species of birds that migrate at night, city lights could distract them from their journey and increase their risk of collision with buildings.
Conservation groups across North America are partnering with businesses to find a solution. In New York, NYC Audubon has started the Lights Out NY program and has fostered agreements with corporations behind major buildings, like the Rockefeller Center and Chrysler Building, to turn their lights off at night during migration season. To find out how your company or building could join in this effort, check out Lights Out NY.
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