Monday, September 14, 2020

Migrating birds and the 9/11 Tribute in Light

Fall bird migration is well underway and it happens to coincide with the 9/11 Tribute in Light here in Manhattan. The birds are flying south at night, and they can be confused and disoriented by the bright lights. Volunteers from NYC Audubon were on hand Friday night to monitor the birds and to advise the tribute organizers to periodically shut off the lights when too many birds gathered in the beams. I decided to go downtown to check it out and to see how many birds I could spot.

Around 9pm, the lights were clearly visible and the birds were, too - they could be seen with the naked eye and resembled bright bubbles swirling up and down within the bright columns.

Birds trapped in the 9/11 memorial lights

Birds trapped in the 9/11 memorial lights

Birds could be seen throughout the cylinders of light and many people down below had no idea what they were looking at. I heard several people say they thought the specks were trash or paper, and many were surprised to discover they were observing live birds flying at night.

Birds trapped in the 9/11 memorial lights

I took a few videos to show the movement of the birds, which looked like fireflies in a lava lamp.

I attempted to take photos to try and identify the individual bird species. I was able to confirm a common nighthawk and several types of warblers, but the bright lights, dark sky and fast movement of the birds made photography a challenge. There is an eBird hotspot page for this location that lists 80 species seen to date flying through the lights.

The Sierra Club has published a good article with more information about the Tribute in Light and what is being done to monitor bird migration during this annual emotional event.

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