By Alissa Widman Neese
Published March 27, 2023

A Common Yellowthroat warbler rescued by volunteers. Photo: Joy Kotheimer, courtesy of Lights Out Columbus

This month marks the start of the spring migration season, when millions of songbirds travel through Central Ohio.

  • Unfortunately, many won’t reach their destinations because they’ll collide with buildings — a deadly problem a group of volunteers wants to help solve.

Why it matters: It’s estimated that between 365 and 988 million birds die each year in the U.S. from building strikes, a leading cause of mortality.

What’s happening: Every morning through May, about 45 volunteers with Lights Out Columbus will patrol downtown, searching for injured birds that fall to the ground below.

  • The local effort is part of a nationwide movement in large cities to rescue birds that survive and learn from the ones that don’t.

Threat level: As the group’s name implies, light pollution from towering skyscrapers can disrupt migration. For years, advocates have urged businesses to turn lights off after-hours to help.

  • But a building covered in windows and shiny glass is an even bigger threat, especially if green space is nearby, Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative program coordinator Matthew Shumar tells Axios.

The intrigue: The first few floors are deadliest. Confused birds think they’re flying toward trees when they see reflections — until they crash into glass, typically around sunrise.

What they’ve found: Since spring 2019, Lights Out Columbus has recovered about 500 total birds annually from spring and fall migration, Shumar says.

What’s next: The goal is to build a database to inform conversations with businesses and elected officials about solutions.

  • Glass can be retrofitted with adhesive films that break up reflections, and bird-safe glass is an option for new construction, though cost and aesthetic can be deterrents.

💭 Alissa’s thought bubble: I tagged along with the self-proclaimed “bird people” last Wednesday — at 6am, well before I’m usually awake! I admire their dedication.

  • We luckily didn’t find any downed birds, but did watch a sparrow thud into an illuminated window, illustrating the problem. It flew away, hopefully unharmed.

What you can do: Residences account for 44% of fatal bird collisions in the U.S. — Bird-proof your windows with products like Feather Friendly or CollidEscape and check out other DIY tips.

🐦 Want to volunteer? Email

  • Current shifts are 6-7:30am and 7:30-9am and span 3 1/2 miles, in the Arena District and on Broad Street near the Ohio Statehouse.
  • Adding 20-30 volunteers could shorten routes or add another near the Main Library.
Lights Out Columbus volunteers Devin and Jimmy Mingesbruney search for birds in the Arena District early Wednesday. Photo: Alissa Widman Neese/Axios

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Saving migrating songbirds in downtown Columbus