Downtown Is Even More Dangerous for Birds

The dangers of visiting downtown Indianapolis have caused a lot of public hand-wringing lately. Turns out the perils are even greater for birds than they are for people.
According to the Amos W. Butler Audubon Society, Central Indiana’s chapter of the National Audubon Society, more than 800 dead or wounded native migratory birds (including the Summer Tanager, which ranges as far south as Central America) have turned up dead or wounded on downtown streets and sidewalks since 2009–not the victims of crime, but, rather, of excessively lit buildings. Two of the Circle Citizen‘s areas of purview, Monument Circle and the Statehouse, have earned a dreadful distinction as some of the worst bird-killing fields in Indianapolis.
Here’s what happens: It is believed that migratory birds use starlight for nighttime navigation; luminescent buildings distract them from their natural flight paths, and they end up flying smack-dab into the structures as a result. “I found plenty [of birds] during my surveys–about 200, including over 40 on a single morning,” says volunteer Wesley Homoya. “And this is just one person doing a few hours of searching a week.”
Last year, the local Audubon folks launched an initiative designed to do something about the problem. Called Lights Out Indy, and modeled after similar efforts elsewhere in the country, it calls on building managers to turn off decorative exterior lighting, and turn down or extinguish interior lights, from midnight to morning. Where appealing to compassion doesn’t work, Lights Out Indy advocates point out that flipping off switches saves energy (and helps the bottom line). “It’s architectural lighting we’re talking about,” says program director Don Gorney. “When it’s late at night, nobody’s looking at it, and it’s wasting electricity, I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to turn it off.”
Some are, including two of Circle Citizen‘s neighbors, Chase Tower and Indianapolis Power & Light. But powers-that-be at one of downtown’s worst offenders, the Statehouse, have steadfastly refused to follow suit, citing security concerns.
(photos courtesy Wesley Homoya and Lights Out Indy)

Since first joining Indianapolis Monthly in 2000, West has written about a wide range of subjects including crime, history, arts and entertainment, pop culture, politics, and food. His feature stories have twice been noted in the Best American Sports Writing anthology and have received top honors from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “The Collapse,” West’s account of the 2011 Indiana State Fair tragedy, was a 2013 National City and Regional Magazine Awards finalist in the category of Best Reporting. He lives on the near-east side.