Lights Out Chicago

During their migratory season, millions of birds representing hundreds of species fly through our city on their way to their summer or winter homes. Lights from tall buildings can disrupt these migratory paths, causing birds to circle buildings repeatedly. As a result, many of them die from exhaustion or after colliding with a building.

The Lights Out program encourages the owners and managers of tall buildings to turn off or dim their decorative lights. The Chicago Audubon Society manages the Lights Out program along with the Building Owners and Managers Association, the National Audubon Society, and the City of Chicago.

Since 1995, Chicago’s tall buildings in the Loop have served as an example to the nation as they save 10,000 birds’ lives annually by participating in the Lights Out program. In addition to saving migratory birds, building owners have realized direct benefits, including decreased energy and maintenance costs.

How do I participate?
You can take action right away by following the guidelines below. To enroll in the Lights Out program and receive support, call the Chicago Audubon Society at 773.539.6793 or visit their website.

What is the goal?
Try to achieve a building with the least amount of light emission possible. The key is to reduce the total light emitted from the building from 11pm until sunrise during migratory seasons (mid-March to early June and late August to mid-November):

  • Extinguish or dim exterior or decorative lighting on any multi-story building. This includes spotlights, logos, lighted clock faces, greenhouses, antennae lighting, etc.
  • Extinguish or dim the maximum amount of lobby lighting possible.
  • Minimize the lights in perimeter rooms at all levels of the building.


  • Use timers effectively to ensure light is only used when needed, if at all.
  • Install motion-sensitive lighting.
  • Use lower-intensity lighting where possible.
  • In outside public areas where light is needed for public safety, avoid “light trespass” by using light fixtures that direct the light down where it is needed, instead of horizontally and/or upward.
  • Use desk lamps or task lighting for security desks/work stations rather than overhead lights.
  • Schedule cleaning crews to work during daylight or early evening hours rather than after 11 pm.
  • Avoid illuminating interior plants or fountains that are attractive to birds.
  • Use “zone capable” interior lighting systems that allow selected rather than all areas of an interior space to be illuminated.
  • Draw curtains or blinds to reduce any light escaping.


Why are lights at the top of tall buildings a trap for migrant birds throughout the night?
The lights on tall buildings in migratory birds’ flight paths confuse the birds’ navigation system. These birds circle the buildings repeatedly and die of exhaustion or collision.

Why are lights in perimeter rooms a trap for migrant birds in the early morning?
Thousands of migratory birds are settling to rest in the early morning hours, seeking shelter and food after their long migratory journey. They can collide with lighted glass as they try to enter the space behind it. Research has shown that birds do not see glass.

How is “tall building” defined for this program?
Buildings over 40 stories, or over 20 stories if they are not immediately adjacent to other tall buildings.

My office or home is not in the Loop. Should I participate?
Yes. Taking action in buildings outside of the loop, especially along the lakefront and riverfront, can save many migratory birds.

What kind of birds are they?
Over 250 species migrate through Chicago, about 8 million individuals in all. Many birds killed by Chicago buildings are small migrants from the tropics – warblers, thrushes, tanagers and others.

Additional Resources:

Information provided by the Chicago Department of Environment, Chicago Audubon Society, Chicago Ornithological Society, Birds and Buildings Forum, and the National Audubon Society.

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