Birds Disoriented By Trade Center Memorial Lights The Tribute in Light is part of the Sept. 11 memorial celebration. Two beams represent the World Trade Center towers that are no longer part of the skyline. This year, birds entered the beams and were pulled from their migratory path. Host Melissa Block speaks with John Rowden, associate director for citizen science and outreach for the New York City Audubon. He's an ornithologist who recorded the birds caught in the memorial lights.

Birds Disoriented By Trade Center Memorial Lights

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


Ornithologist John Rowden was there watching from below. He works with the New York Audubon. And John, why were those so many birds flying into those columns of light?

JOHN ROWDEN: First of all, there had been very unfavorable conditions for bird migration previous to that night. There had been repeated southerly air flows that were coming up, preventing birds from flying south, and there was the hurricane that came up the East Coast recently. And so they were just sort of piling up, if you will, north...

BLOCK: Waiting for the weather to change.

ROWDEN: And what we would see on Saturday night was that birds would fly through the columns and sort of fly out a little bit, and then they would just do these sweeping turns and come back in. It just seemed like that they were trying to figure out how to get away from it, but then that reference was constantly there, and so they would then cue in on it again and then circle back in.

BLOCK: When you looked up and realized just how many birds had gathered in this light this year, what did you think?

ROWDEN: We had to do it periodically to, you know, just ensure that the birds could continue on their way southward.

BLOCK: And what were you worried about? What's the danger there?

ROWDEN: So they would become just exhausted. Plus, they're not making any progress farther southward. And so, it's sort of a double-whammy, you know, that they're having this exhausting type of flight, plus they're not having a successful journey southward and getting to better habitat where they can then replace those energy stores.

BLOCK: Well, do you figure that these birds, despite their confusion on September 11th, they're on their way headed south, and all is well?

ROWDEN: But it was really nice on Saturday when I would, we would turn the lights off and, you know, the birds would just move on. You could hear that. You could see that. And you could think that these birds are probably making it. And if we hadn't been there to work to help them, they probably wouldn't have made it on past there.

BLOCK: John Rowden is an ornithologist and the associate director for citizen science and outreach with New York City Audubon. John, thanks very much.

ROWDEN: Thank you.

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