By Kellie Gates
The lights on top of Chicago’s Blue Cross Blue Shield Building turn green for St. Patrick’s Day, pink for Breast Cancer Awareness, and go black for the birds.
Back in 2004, facilities manager Geoff Credi got involved with the city’s Lights Out program, through which buildings turn out the lights on their upper stories during spring and fall migrations.
Experts say the lights attract and confuse birds, which later get killed when they fly into windows.
It was negative publicity about dead birds that led Credi to the Lights Out program. Since then, he has taken the building beyond the Lights Out minimum requirements.
Credi touts Lights Out as a way to save both birds and energy costs. And the director of the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors group touts Credi and his company as stars of the program.
Turning the lights out “is easy stuff,” Credi said. “We turn off our decorative building lighting at 10 p.m., and keep it turned off all night long.” Lobby lights are dimmed to the point where people can still see enough to walk around safely, but the plants and trees inside are not visible to the birds.
Other options were just not financially feasible, he said. There was no way the company could afford to replace all the glass in its building – which was 30 stories and is in the process of being enlarged to 54.
So Credi asked Collision Monitors to help pinpoint the biggest problem spots. Monitors Director Annette Prince said volunteers plotted bird strikes on a map of the building, which allowed Blue Cross to see where the most birds were dying and why.
“In some cases, we had to move a plant 6 feet over so birds didn’t want to fly into it” through the window, he said.
A lot of birds were colliding into two large glass doors that face a landscaped courtyard, Credi said. They were covered with film that has fritting on it to make the glass visible to the birds.
“We spent about $2,000 on each door, and that fixed the problem,” Credi said. Including paying staff to re-program the lights, Credi said the company has spent less than $5,000 in total on the project. While he has not done a cost analysis, he believes Blue Cross has saved more than that on reduced electric bills alone.
Credi says some of the negative attention his building got prior to joining Lights Out was not deserved. The building is next to one mile of green space called Grant Park. But in his 10 years there, he never saw a flock of birds hitting the building, and that seemed to be the perception.
Before joining the program, Blue Cross did not keep stats on bird strikes. But Credi does think a difference has been made. In 2006, there were six documented strikes.
During the two years the building is under construction, there are no lights on top to turn off, Credi said. But Blue Cross is continuing to follow the rest of its program.
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