YDS is taking far-reaching measures to help migrating birds, including hiring a paid light monitor and hosting a mass to honor the creatures as they pass the Yale campus.

Staff reporters

Hedy Tung, photo editor

As a result of student advocacy, Yale Divinity School will now commit to dimming or turning off all non-essential lights during fall and spring bird migrations, as part of the National Audubon’s “Lights Out” program. Society.

Audubon Curfew is a national effort to reduce bird collisions due to artificial lights. Every fall and spring, billions of birds migrate across the United States. The majority of birds fly at night, exposing them to bright lights and sky glow. According to Audubon, these lights can cause disorientation, resulting in birds flying into buildings or windows. The University has experienced important problems with these bird collisions in recent years, with birds crashing into the glass facades of buildings such as Evans Hall.

“When we start to lose these voices of God’s creation, we lose some of the fullness of God on this earth,” said Meredith Barges DIV ’23. “We’ve lost, like, four billion birds and all that bird song, and we’ve lost all of these real species that are disappearing… I see it as the loss of the wholeness and wholeness of the creation of God. “

Barges, who led the Lights Out initiative at YDS, has been passionate about birding for eight years. She recounted the experience that first helped her realize that lighting was a problem at Divinity School.

Barges had hoped to witness the Perseid meteor shower, which occurred in the second week of August. However, she discovered that due to light pollution, she was unable to see meteors. Barges got into his car and drove around looking for a place to see the stars.

“Then I waited… for there to be a better lighting plan as the migration started,” said Barges. “But I came into the buildings, and they were lit up like Christmas trees, and I can’t tell you how angry I was. In fact, I was like a curse, like never a night goes by that I don’t see how many fucking lights are on. Like why? Why must there be so many lights everywhere?

She eventually emailed Yale Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling to express her concerns. She added that she was surprised at Sterling’s responsiveness to her suggestions.

Specifically, Sterling instructed YDS operations to turn off the landscape lights in their back garden. These lights no longer radiate skyward. Additionally, Barges was given a paid job as an instructor, to walk around the Divinity School building between 10:30 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. to make sure all lights were turned off.

According to Barges, this protocol made YDS the first illuminated campus with administrative support for the effort.

“Cash elimination is a real problem in our world right now,” Sterling said. “There have been a number of bird species that have been lost. I think we all need to make a commitment to helping the smaller and weaker species on our planet have full lives, to be able to survive. “

Sterling’s connection to bird collisions dates back to his childhood. Growing up, he remembers seeing a group of Canadian geese become disoriented from the lights and have to fly around his hometown all night.

Viveca Morris ’15 ENV ’18 SOM ’19, associate researcher at Yale Law School, worked with the Peabody Museum to informally monitor bird collisions on campus. As his efforts focus on improving and regulating building design, Morris has expressed support for the Lights Out program.

“I think it’s an issue that people really care about, and it’s a very popular issue,” Morris said. “In a time of many controversial issues, this is something we absolutely can do to help birds and enrich our city and enrich our campus, and enrich people’s lives and protect these animals.”

Even with the collaboration of the administration, there were some challenges.

According to Kaley Casenhiser DIV ’23, a contributor to the Lights Out initiative and member of Green Faith, one of the main problems with the project is that not all lights are designed to be dimmed, which makes it more difficult to control them. switch off. .

She also added that the issue of safety had also been raised in conversations about the project, although she commented that the concern “was very quickly dismantled”.

“What are the reasons for turning on the lights and who are we afraid of in this statement?” Casenhiser told the News. “And is this fear really rooted in an understanding of radical embrace and welcoming love, creatures and humans included?” “

Barges echoed this sentiment, noting that for her, the Lights Out project is not just about birds, but rather a “nexus” between interrelated environmental, social and economic issues.

She cited research that suggests that while turning on the lights may make us feel more secure, it doesn’t necessarily increase safety. As an example, she said it was much safer to keep the lights completely off during WWII.

“We really have to rethink the way we do lighting… we have to question it,” said Barges. “Because it doesn’t have the impact we thought it would. It doesn’t make us safer like we think it is. It’s an old way of thinking. It is an outdated way of thinking.

The initiative is currently working on issuing an official proclamation announcing YDS ‘cooperation with the Lights Out initiative. In the future, Barges hopes to expand the initiative to the School of the Environment and eventually to the rest of Yale.

At Divinity School in particular, Casenhiser helped plan the school’s Bird Migration Mass, during which Sterling will speak about Yale’s involvement in the Lights Out initiative.

The mass will also include a prayer for the migratory birds of the season, as well as a musical performance and a poetry reading, all related to the birds. Those in attendance will be invited to share meaningful experiences they have had with birds.

The Bird Migration Mass will take place on October 18.


Isabelle Qian covers Yale graduate and vocational schools. She is in her second year at Pierson College and is from Seattle, WA.


Alex covers campus politics. She is a first year student at Trumbull College majoring in English.