Jul 11, 2022 - News

Birders ask high-rises to dim lights

A rendering of proposed buildings on South Congress, at the old Statesman site.
A rendering of redevelopment plans for the American-Statesman lot. Photo courtesy of Endeavor Real Estate Group

As Austin's cityscape expands, more birds could find themselves crashing into glass and concrete.

Driving the news: Travis Audubon is asking building developers to turn off interior and exterior lights "to protect birds from the disorientation caused by light pollution in urban settings," per correspondence obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: More than 200 million migratory birds fly through Austin each spring and fall — approximately one out of every three birds migrating through the United States.

What they're saying: "Reflective glass is not recognized by birds as a barrier," warns the letter from Travis Audubon executive director Nicole Netherton to architects, lawyers and developers of the old American-Statesman property on South Congress, just south of the Ann Richards Bridge. "They see the reflected trees, sky, and clouds as their habitat."

  • "Artificial light streaming into the night sky disorients birds because it interferes with their star navigation. A human analogy would be driving toward an oncoming car with its high beams on."
  • "Please consider landscaping that incorporates native plants which provide nutrients for native and migratory species."

The other side: The design phase of the project "will include eco-friendly features and practices," attorney Richard Suttle, who is representing the Cox family, which owns the Statesman site, told Axios.

Travis Audubon officials tell Axios they have sent similar letters to owners and developers of at least 11 other properties — but have not heard back from any of them.

Our own experience: At least a couple times a year a bird or bat would try to fly into the Statesman newsroom, which had wide windows overlooking Lady Bird Lake, and go — unfortunately — splat against the glass.

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