It's lights out at Renaissance Center to save birds

Posted on March 4, 2013

If you think the iconic Renaissance Center doesn’t light up Detroit’s skyline as much as it used to, you’re right.

General Motors Co. has been encouraging employees to douse their office lights at night to prevent bird deaths at its world headquarters. For its efforts, the Detroit automaker has been honored by the Michigan Audubon Society.

Detroit is in the middle of an important migratory bird flight path — at times, the winged wanderers are so dense they can be seen on radar — and birds often crash into lit buildings at night or circle them, mesmerized, until they fall to their deaths.

While the numbers are questioned by some, estimates of bird deaths from running into skyscrapers range from millions to half a billion annually.

“We haven’t seen the bird deaths (at RenCen),” said Sue Kelsey, GM’s biodiversity manager. But “it’s prudent and responsible for us to mitigate any potential concern. When they come through, they come through en masse.”

GM encourages employees to turn off their lights at night during spring and fall migrations, from March to May and August to October.

GM is attempting to make its properties more feather-friendly. GM manages about 2,500 acres of wildlife habitats at 25 global sites, including its Michigan locations. They include acres of tall grass birds can use to rest or hunt prey.

GM has been part of the Safe Passage Great Lakes program for seven years, Kelsey said. This is its first award.

“General Motors has been an eager and committed partner of this initiative since its inception,” says Fred Charbonneau, Detroit Audubon Society board member. “GM’s continued support of Safe Passage Great Lakes is a testament to its commitment to wildlife protection.”

Michael Martinez, The Detroit News.