"It was like a scene out of a horror film," said Melissa Breyer, who counted a total of 261 dead birds on Tuesday morning.
Every morning during the fall migratory season, Melissa Breyer sets out to do her usual volunteer work for NYC Audubon's Project Safe Flight: collecting the bodies of migratory birds who collided with skyscrapers in downtown Manhattan and died. This week, however, she saw one of the most heartbreaking sights she's ever come across in her years of volunteering. As Breyer — who is the managing editor of environmental news site Treehugger — walked around the World Trade Center on Tuesday morning, she saw hundreds of corpses of brightly colored migratory birds strewn across the pavement.
Some of the 226 dead birds I picked up this morning while window collision monitoring for @NYCAudubon. 205 from @3NYWTC and @4WTC alone. Many others swept up, inaccessible, or too mangled to collect. 30 injured to @wildbirdfund. If you’re in NYC today, be careful where you step. pic.twitter.com/RTjm82NIpy— Melissa Breyer (@MelissaBreyer) September 14, 2021
"It was 6:15 when I got there, so the sun hadn't fully risen, but you could still see them: there were these dark little shadowy lumps of bird," Breyer told VICE. "It was like a scene out of a horror film." She counted a total of 261 dead birds, including black and white warblers, American redstarts, northern parulas, and ovenbirds. She brought another 30 to the Wild Bird Fund, a wildlife rehabilitation center in New York City. Breyer revealed on Twitter that "many others swept up, inaccessible, or too mangled to collect." She also shared a video of herself walking around the World Trade Center complex, pausing every few steps to pick up a fallen bird and place it in a large plastic bag.
"I did this for 65 minutes straight doing one loop around [World Trade Center] and [3 World Trade Center] — most of these before sunrise. Please can we turn off lights during migration???" Breyer wrote. "When you have 226 dead window-struck migratory birds from one morning, it's hard to get them all in one photo. @_WTCOfficial — lights can be turned off, windows can be treated. Please do something. @4WTC and @3wtcnewyork, don't let this be your legacy. @NYCAudubon @wildbirdfund."
When you have 226 dead window-struck migratory birds from one morning, it’s hard to get them all in one photo. @_WTCOfficial — lights can be turned off, windows can be treated. Please do something. @4WTC and @3wtcnewyork don’t let this be your legacy. @NYCAudubon @wildbirdfund pic.twitter.com/Qiu8Wqmilf— Melissa Breyer (@MelissaBreyer) September 14, 2021
"Counting the dead birds on @_WTCOfficial awnings that I couldn't collect; add another 35, + the 30 who went to @wildbirdfund, making my documented total 291 between WTC 1, 3, 4, 7. That number excludes the swept & smashed ones. I understand they continued coming through the morning," she added. Between 90,000 and 230,000 migratory birds are estimated to have been killed in New York City by colliding with building glass last year. Rita McMahon, the director of the Wild Bird Fund, revealed that the number of avian patients treated by the center has increased 20 percent this year.
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We care deeply for wild birds and protecting their habitat. We are actively encouraging our office tenants to turn off their lights at night and lower their blinds wherever possible and are investigating additional precautions.— World Trade Center (@4WTC) September 15, 2021
Breyer explained that since a typical bad day for her is coming across 25 or 30 dead birds, counting over 250 on one morning was "devastating." Kaitlyn Parkins, associate director of conservation and science at NYC Audubon, told New York Post that the bird deaths this week were likely due to "a big pulse in migration" on Monday. There are many reasons why so many birds die each fall migration. Birds don't understand reflections or have the ability to detect clear glass as a physical barrier. Furthermore, bright lights at night attract nocturnal migratory birds, potentially disrupting their internal sense of direction.
Hundreds of birds die after slamming into the World Trade Center https://t.co/A0XK2csmb5— The Independent (@Independent) September 16, 2021
McMahon explained that the fall migration is also a time when birds that hatched in the spring fly through the City without the street smarts of the seasoned adults of the spring migration. These birds suffer two concussions when they collide into skyscrapers' windows: one when they hit the glass, and another when they fall to the ground, making glass buildings with their lights on at night death traps for young migratory songbirds. Fortunately, these collisions can be avoided by adopting bird-friendly building designs for exteriors such as patterning glass, covering them with shades, or adding window films.
There are dead/injured birds here every morning during migration, but this was more than usual. Shows the potential for when conditions are just right.— Melissa Breyer (@MelissaBreyer) September 15, 2021
A spokesperson for Silverstein Properties, which runs Four, Three, and Seven World Trade Center, said operators are taking steps to protect winged wildlife. "We care deeply for wild birds and protecting their habitat in the five boroughs. Understanding that artificial night-time lighting, in general, can attract and disorient migrating birds, we are actively encouraging our office tenants to turn off their lights at night and lower their blinds wherever possible, especially during the migratory season," they said. Meanwhile, Jordan Barowitz — spokesman for One WTC, where less than 30 of the birds were found — said that they'd already installed special glass to keep birds from dying.
I work at @4WTC and my colleagues and I were discussing the multiple dead birds we found around lunch time and were walking around in shock. There was another bird we found sitting stunned. It started flying again when a @4WTC staff member gently poured some water on it.— Sasha Kesler (@SashaKesler) September 14, 2021
You can gently cup your hand around the bird and place it in a paper bag. Please don't try to revive them in any way. They are usually severely concussed. WBF is open 9-7 daily, no appt. needed. Report any birds you find to https://t.co/2nzaCpssV3🙏— Wild Bird Fund (@wildbirdfund) September 16, 2021
"The first 200 feet of One WTC are encased in glass fins that are non-reflective. This design was chosen because it greatly reduces bird strikes which mostly occur below 200 feet and are frequently caused by reflective glass," Barowitz said. The most important thing that employees working in these buildings can do, McMahon said, is turn off the lights when they leave the office. These deaths "are avoidable, or at least one can reduce the numbers substantially," she said, adding that even one or two darkened windows can make a difference by alerting a bird to the presence of the glass.