Tuesday, July 23, 2024

(Un)Lighting Toledo: City’s Lights Out Toledo Campaign

Envision the City of Toledo’s skyline: the Steam Plant’s iconic smoke stacks, restored by Promedica as part of their downtown campus, Fifth Third’s shimmering blue glass and our three unique bridges: Veteran’s Glass City Skyway, Anthony Wayne Bridge and the Martin Luther King Memorial Bridge.

For the folks at Metroparks Toledo, Black Swamp Bird Conservatory (BSBO), Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, the Toledo Zoo and Nature’s Nursery, the skyline represents a conservation opportunity. For them, even birds “Will Do Better in Toledo.”

As proponents for the Lights Out Toledo (LOT) campaign, these organizations strive to provide a conducive and safe path for migratory birds. According to Ohio Lights Out, “Collisions with buildings are a leading cause of bird fatality during migration in North America.” It estimates up to half a billion birds die each year from these collisions.

“Increased light from urban areas affects landscape scale stopover decisions by migratory birds,” it states. “Birds have increased exposure to reflective glass, which can have devastating consequences.”

Enrolling the skyline

The first phase is bringing local buildings on board. In 2018, BSBO kicked off the Bird-Friendly Toledo program and began enrolling buildings in the Lights Out agreement, with Metroparks Toledo joining in 2022, and the other partners later in 2024. 

Those enrolled agree to contribute to making Toledo’s skyline darker during peak migratory seasons, both in the spring and fall. During these allotted blackout periods, especially from Midnight until dawn, area businesses provide safer passage simply by turning off their lights.

To date, 10 major developments have pledged to do their part, including skyline staples such Fifth Third Bank, PNC Bank and the Hylant building. A full working list is available here: Lights Out Toledo.

Other locations, such as the Glass City River Wall, America’s largest mural and the Maumee Bay Lodge, which hosts The Biggest Week in American Birding every year, are more recent enrollees to an ever-expanding program.

Glass City Bird Crew 

The second phase of the initiative involves the operation of a collision monitoring system in the downtown area. As a collaboration between Jessica Duez (Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge), Jeremy Dominguez (the Toledo Zoo), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge and a group of dedicated volunteers, the Glass City Bird Crew was born.

According to Jay Wright (Metroparks Toledo), “The goal of this project is to collect any dead or injured birds (and occasional bats) from window collisions in the downtown area every day during the peak migration periods (April through May in spring, September through October in fall).” 

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Injured birds are taken to Nature’s Nursery for rehab, dead birds are collected and later transported to museum collections such as the Museum of Biological Diversity at Ohio State University. 

“The data collected during this monitoring effort are helping us figure out what are key problem buildings (or parts of buildings) for bird collisions,” Wright said.

Next steps to nurturing a bird-friendly city

Partners involved continue to enroll more buildings to address problem areas with high hopes to not only convince building management to turn out the lights but also implement bird-safe glass treatments. These treatments involve high contrast, dense patterns applied at the surface level, either as non-intrusive dots, perforated film, or even in decorative manners to make glass more visible to migratory birds.

As mentioned, one of the newest enrollees is the Glass City River Wall, which Toledo City Council voted unanimously to join the TOC cause on April 24, 2024.

Council approved the original project in 2023, and funding for the lighting is in process for 2024, with First Solar and Perrysburg Energy partnering with the city, state and other sources. The solar installation is expected to power not only the lights for the mural but also the nearby pump station. Over the 20-30 years of the project, the city anticipates nearly $500,000 in energy savings.

Birding as an important aspect of Toledo’s identity

We spoke to Kimberly Kaufman, the Executive Director of BSBO, who expressed her excitement in the campaign’s momentum, including the early enrollment of the Glass City River Wall.

“The upward-pointing decorative lights are some of the most problematic for migratory birds,” Kaufman said. “And almost immediately council reached out to work with me on legislation.”

She went on to talk about how important birding is not only as a means of conservation but as a vital part of Toledo’s tourism industry. With annual festivals, our ecologically vibrant parks, and network of passionate people and partner organizations working on these conservation efforts, birding opportunities in the region have never been better.

Despite an outdoor upbringing, Kimberly failed to connect with birds. “Once I discovered their incredible beauty and diversity, like how could these birds have escaped my notice, the rest of my life changed in an instant.” 

She knows others will have similar reactions once they experience birding and encourages anyone interested in LOT or conservation to reach out to the participating organizations mentioned in this article.


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