For the second spring in a row, seven of downtown Fort Worth’s major buildings will go dark between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Building owners aren’t trying to save money on energy costs, although turning off outdoor lighting can reduce electricity bills.

Their not-so-hidden goal is to help with an often invisible problem: the millions of birds killed through building collisions each year, particularly when they’re migrating through Texas at night. Between 365 million and 988 million birds are killed annually when they collide with buildings, according to studies cited by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one of the world’s leading research centers on birds. 

Downtown buildings participating in Lights Out Texas

  • Frost Tower
  • Bank of America Tower at City Center
  • Wells Fargo Tower at City Center
  • 777 Main
  • Burnett Plaza
  • First on 7th
  • Future Fort Worth City Hall at 100 Energy Way

“The major problem is that birds are being pulled into urban areas by light pollution and then hitting buildings and residences in the early morning hours,” said Julia Wang, a project leader at the Cornell Lab. “It’s an underseen, underrepresented problem because detection rates are low. Birds are taken away by scavengers, predators and cleaning crews that sweep them away.” 

In 2021, Fort Worth became the first major Texas city to sign onto Cornell’s Lights Out Texas campaign for both the spring and fall migratory seasons. City officials have urged residents and business owners to dim their exterior lights between early March and early June in the spring, and between mid-August and late October in the fall. 

As the Lights Out message has gained statewide traction with help from former First Lady Laura Bush, environmental advocates are preparing to take the campaign to the next level in North Texas. 

After leading an effort to survey bird mortalities in Dallas over the past two years, Texas Conservation Alliance executive director Ben Jones is laying the groundwork to begin collision monitoring in Fort Worth this fall. 

“Fort Worth is a true leader, especially in downtown, with Lights Out, and we’re just excited to get the opportunity to potentially survey to see what’s happening down there data-wise and contribute to this effort,” Jones said. 

Volunteers collect data on bird collisions and deaths in downtown Dallas in 2021. The Texas Conservation Alliance plans to launch collision monitoring in Fort Worth this fall. (Courtesy of Timothy Brys)

That would make Fort Worth the sixth major city in Texas to collect dead birds and other data to demonstrate the impact of the Lights Out campaign on collision deaths over time. A 2019 study by the Cornell Lab declared Dallas the third worst U.S. city for birds during the migratory season behind Chicago and Houston. 

Details like funding for the Fort Worth project are still being worked out, but Jones is confident that the volunteer survey will be ready for takeoff this year. 

Cities that participated in Lights Out in 2021

  • Arlington
  • Austin
  • Cedar Hill
  • Dallas
  • Fort Worth
  • Galveston
  • Houston
  • Dripping Springs

“When you start studying the data that you’re collecting, you really get a sense of what’s happening and realize we’re not having major collisions across the whole downtown region,” Jones said. “In Dallas, we found that 80% of collisions came from one region of downtown. If we can take targeted action there, we can dramatically mitigate the collisions in that part of downtown.”

Wang will also present an overview of the Lights Out program and the continuing urgency of migratory bird deaths at a Fort Worth City Council work session on March 22. She plans to ask council members to put together a long-term commitment, such as a council resolution, to promote the Lights Out campaign indefinitely. 

A similar proposal was approved by officials in Travis County and the town of Dripping Springs, Wang said. Houston officials are also working on a resolution to turn off outdoor lights during the spring and fall seasons, she added. 

“I’m hoping Fort Worth, with as strong as they’ve been the last few seasons, is eager to get ahead on that and enact long-term protections for our birds,” Wang said. 

Volunteers collected birds one morning in downtown Dallas as part of an effort to monitor bird deaths resulting from building collisions. (Courtesy of Ben Jones)

Cody Whittenburg, an assistant code compliance director who oversees environmental health services for the city, said he doesn’t see any downsides to supporting the campaign. 

“We’re able to conserve energy for individuals and businesses, and we’re also able to hopefully assist the birds on their migratory paths. From that standpoint, it seems like a win-win,” he said. “At this juncture, I don’t see a reason that we would discourage people from assisting with a community-wide effort to support our migratory birds and our management of those impacts on our local community.” 

How you can take part in Lights Out Texas

Here’s what the Texas Conservation Alliance recommends.

  • Turn off non-essential lights from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. during peak spring (March-May) and fall (Sept.-Nov.) migration
  • Turn off or dim interior home lighting, atrium lighting, and decorative landscape lighting.
  • Turn off lights before leaving the home or office.
  • Draw blinds and close curtains.
  • Outside lights should be aimed down.
  • Install motion sensors on outside lights to minimize use.

More education is necessary to inform Texans about the merits of the campaign, said Kate Johnson, a director of the Amon Carter Foundation who first began working with the Cornell Lab more than four years ago.

“We’re not asking people to take away security lighting, because security lighting is downlight, where you illuminate things below,” Johnson said. “Uplighting doesn’t really serve any purpose other than decoration. No one’s security is ever going to be compromised because of this.” 

Overall, though, Johnson has been encouraged by local enthusiasm for saving wildlife and the commitment shown by downtown building owners. Most people would like to see a quick fix to stop bird populations from further decline, but it will take time to see results from efforts like Lights Out, she said. 

Now that 44 partner organizations across Texas are involved, Jones said, environmental groups are planning to amplify Lights Out through a more significant media campaign. The ultimate goal is to see Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston drop off the list of the most dangerous cities for migratory birds, he added. 

“We can’t move our geography,” Jones said. “We can’t move our place in the flyway. We’re always going to have birds soaring over us twice a year as part of migration. The only way to get off (the list) is to lower non-essential lighting every spring and fall.” 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman FoundationContact her by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Haley Samsel

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She previously covered the environment for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She grew up in Plano and graduated from American University,...

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