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tom moody

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Towers of Light vs The Birds

James Wagner asks about the flecks in the light beams in this photo he took of yesterday's Tribute in Light 9/11 memorial. Via alex (scroll down): "This is what birders were afraid of: this year's Tribute in Light display coincided with a big migrant flight. Too bad for the birds. Here's a report received from bird advocate Rebekah Creshkoff (a non-birder friend who saw the display thought that there was "glitter" in the light beams; that was birds.)"

I was at the Tribute in Light briefly tonight, from about 10:30 to 11. I didn't see our volunteer Brooke, but I sure hope she or Eileen or Denise had/have a camera. I didn't, but what's going on down there should be documented.

THOUSANDS of birds were behaviorally trapped in the columns of light. The beams were visibly filled with birds for their entire height, looking like clouds of bugs. Their twittering was audible.

Their brightly illuminated bodies were reflected in the windows of nearby buildings -- 3 World Financial Center and the movie theatre. The light was so bright, some birds looked as though they were on fire.

There were so many birds, it was impossible to track any one individual for any length of time. I did see one bird that circled in and out of the uptown beam six times before I lost track. Each time, the bird stayed in the light for from 3 to 9 seconds.

The lowest 30 feet or so of light had moths instead of birds. Fantastic numbers of moths were attracted to surface of the big lamps. Assistants (wearing sunglasses) frequently wiped the surface of the lights with a cloth; even so, there would be smoke from all the moth bodies just moments later. I saw one bird lower down (apparently) escape the beams.

The birds were visible to the naked eye as sparkling motes floating in the light from Barrow St., about a mile or so uptown.

I found all this extremely disturbing. It takes a songbird about a week to lay down a gram of fat -- fuel for its long-distance migration. That fat will carry it about 120 miles. How much fat are they wasting flying around in those beams, only to have to (best case) spend the next several days refueling in food- and habitat-poor lower Manhattan?

The beams put me in mind of the old-time ceilometers -- beams of light formerly used at airports to measure the height of the cloud cover. Many significant birds kills were documented at ceilometers. I am attaching a paper I wrote for the organizers of the first Tribute in Light, which references ceilometer data.

The good news is, the lights will be off tomorrow. But is the human value of the Tribute in Light really worth imperiling thousands of birds -- and incinerating God knows how many moths?


Just wait till they fire up those big wind turbines in the Freedom Tower.

- tom moody 9-12-2004 10:35 pm [link] [16 comments]