By Randy Boswell, Postmedia News September 16, 2010 StoryPhotos ( 2 )
More Images » NEW YORK - The 9/11 memorial lights blind thousands of Swainson's thrushesPhotograph by: Daniel Turkewitz from You Tube., Daniel Turkewitz from You Tube.Thousands of Canadian songbirds migrating south via New York City on Saturday — the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — inadvertently added a mysterious touch to the 9/11 memorial lights shining into the night sky above the site of the destroyed Twin Towers.
Drawn instinctively to the two vast, luminous columns rising from the former World Trade Center site, the birds became disoriented and circled moth-like for hours in a poignant and shimmering display that captivated witnesses, infusing the silent searchlight tribute to the victims of 9/11 with incessant sound and silvery flecks of motion.
But officials with the New York branch of the Audubon Society recognized the spectacular sight as a serious danger to the migrating birds, whose energy reserves were at risk of being fatally depleted the longer they remained "trapped" in the lights.
Experts are still analyzing sound recordings of the event, but suspect most of the thousands of birds were Swainson's thrushes, which breed across Northern Canada during the summer months before gathering in huge flocks and migrating south in early September.
"It's not exactly clear why light affects birds' ability to navigate at night, but it has long been noted that birds are attracted to and become confused by bright lights under certain weather conditions," Glenn Phillips, executive director of New York City Audubon, told Postmedia News.
"At the inception of the Tribute In Lights project, the Municipal Arts Society agreed with New York City Audubon that the lights would be turned off in the event that birds were being harmed, and in 2007 both organizations agreed on a formal protocol," said Phillips.
This year's migration "was the first year since then that significant numbers of birds gathered in the beams," he added. "The solution is really very simple — the event producers turned the lights out for 20 minutes, five times over the course of the night, which allowed the birds to move on."
But for the several hours during which the mesmerized creatures were held in the lights' thrall, New Yorkers posted pictures, videos and vivid descriptions of the startling phenomenon.
"Illuminated in the beams were thousands of small white objects, sparkling and spiralling, unlike anything seen on other nights," Wired.com's Brandon Keim wrote of the remarkable scene at the Ground Zero memorial. "Some viewers wondered if they were scraps of paper or plastic caught in updrafts from the spotlights' heat. From beneath, it was at times like gazing into a snowstorm. It was hard not to think of souls."
Phillips said New York's efforts to minimize light-related hazards for migrating birds was inspired by a similar project in Toronto.
The Canadian conservation initiative — called FLAP for "Fatal Light Awareness Project" — promotes turning off lights and closing blinds in office towers at night to prevent collisions that are believed to account for millions of bird deaths each year across North America.
"For some declining species, demographic data suggests that hazards encountered during migrations are the key cause of those declines," Phillips said. "For those species, efforts to reduce hazards, like glass and lights, and improve stopover habitat — where the birds feed and rest along their migration — are essential for their long-term protection."
New York's momentary sense of awe over the migrating thrushes drawn to the memorial lights comes nearly two years after an incident that stands as city's most infamous encounter with Canadian birds.
On Jan. 15, 2009, a U.S. Airways flight carrying 155 passengers and crew successfully ditched in the Hudson River after a flock of Canada geese flew into the plane's engines shortly after takeoff.
The so-called "Miracle on the Hudson" made pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger a national hero and prompted special investigations into the danger posed by birds near North American airports
Being an animal and bird lover, I find this very sad that man is playing such havoc with our natural world.