Bird-Friendly Communities

Charlotte Lights Out Volunteers Help Migrating Birds

Please welcome guest-blogger and Audubon North Carolina volunteer, Kim Brand. Kim is a resident of Winston-Salem and a member of Forsyth Audubon. She launched Winston-Salem's Lights Out program, and currently oversees the Bird Friendly Communities program for N.C. 

It was just a regular day for Jill Palmer when she saved a Winter Wren and a Wood Thrush - one of our fastest-declining songbirds, both before daybreak.

Jill was walking the streets in uptown Charlotte on a crisp fall morning as part of Lights Out Charlotte, a partnership between Mecklenburg Audubon, Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation, and Audubon North Carolina. Both birds had flown into windows in uptown Charlotte, and were most likely attracted to the area because of the lights on tall buildings.

Jill, who is president of Mecklenburg Audubon, launched Lights Out after hearing about a similar program in Winston-Salem at Audubon North Carolina Chapter Day in early 2012. Lights Out Charlotte volunteers began their third full season of monitoring on Monday, September 23. Volunteers have found 154 dead and 18 injured birds so far. More than 30 volunteers have risen before dawn to look for these birds.

Volunteers capture live birds, many of which are simply stunned and can be released after spending an hour or two in a paper bag. Injured birds go to a federally licensed, local songbird rehabilitator. The dead birds collected go to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, where they are used for science and education.

Most buildings in uptown Charlotte have reduced their lighting over the past few years as part of Duke Energy's SmartEnergy Now program, going dark from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. However, those pre-dawn hours can be very important for migratory birds as they complete their flight for the night.

This fact was demonstrated by flight calls heard by Brian Bockhahn of NC State Parks on September 24. At Hanging Rock State Park, Brian heard constant flight calls from 5:30 to 7 a.m. and experienced an "overwhelming peak" from 6:30 to 6:45 a.m.

So far, Jill is hearing a firm "no" from corporate building managers when she asks for participation in the Lights Out program until daybreak. But you can bet she won't give up trying to protect the birds that fly past Charlotte along the Atlantic Flyway!

To learn more about Charlotte’s Mecklenburg Audubon chapter, or to volunteer with the Lights Out program, visit

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