By Peter Krouse
Published on February 21, 2022

The lights of Cleveland’s skyline at night, seen here on Nov. 3, 2006, create a danger to migrating birds. Photo by The Plain Dealer.

Like moths to a flame, migrating birds looking to rest and refuel are drawn to the bright lights of downtown Cleveland.

For many it will be their last stop.

Each year, thousands of birds heading to and from Canada and the tropics plow into downtown buildings, leaving many of the tiny, feathered visitors dead or wounded on sidewalks and windowsills.

They meet their doom in the fall after their long Lake Erie flyover, and in the spring when they are headed back home.

And each year teams of volunteers with Lights Out Cleveland round up as many of the casualties as they can.

Recruitment for the collection teams is starting now so volunteers can learn about the program and get trained on how to handle the birds, said Tim Jasinksi, wildlife rehabilitation specialist with the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center in Bay Village.

The teams will walk specific routes each day from 5 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., starting March 15 and lasting until the beginning of June, and then again from Aug. 15 until about mid-November. The hope is to reach the birds before cleanup crews or the gulls and rats get to them.

Also, building owners will be asked to dim their lights as much as safely possible from midnight to dawn during those times.

Since 2017, Lights Out Cleveland has collected more than 10,000 birds, Jasinksi said, most of them during the fall when the migrations include young birds leaving the boreal forests of Canada for the first time.

About 150 different species migrate over the city, he said, with some of the most common ones being warblers, thrushes, sparrows, woodcocks and catbirds.

The birds migrate at night. When they reach Cleveland they can get disoriented by the lights, when normally they would be following stars and the moon and other celestial cues, Jasinski said.

They fly to the light and end up hitting glass windows. Sometimes they arrive in the city safely, but when dawn breaks, they get “trapped by the maze of glass,” he said, and are drawn to the reflection of trees and green spaces in building windows.

The birds collected are placed in paper bags, which provide a quiet, dark place for those still alive, Jasinski said. The injured are taken to the Nature & Science Center, where they are hopefully nursed back to health and released. Dead ones are frozen and donated to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for research purposes.

“The sad thing is about two thirds of them are dead on average,” Jasinski said.

Those interested in volunteering can email Liz McQuaid at

This article was originally published on

Why downtown Cleveland’s bright lights pose dangers to thousands of migrating birds