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Biology Professor Tracking Evening Bird Migrations


They’re going to light up the night in Philadelphia.

But first, backers of Mexican-Canadian media artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s “Open Air” project want to make sure they don’t kill thousands of birds in the process.

“Open Air” will feature 24 searchlights aimed into the night sky that will move in response to the sound of human voices, from 8 to 11 p.m., Sept. 20 to Oct. 14.

Since those date coincide with the peak of the fall bird migration, there is a danger that the 250 species of birds that fly through the area will become disoriented and die. A similar phenomenon was documented in 2010 during the “Tribute In Light” at the World Trade Center site.

As it happens, J. Alan Clark, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at Fordham, studies how migrating birds move through urban landscapes, so “Open Air” is a unique opportunity to study how the birds react to light. Along with Christine Sheppard, Bird Collisions Campaign Manager for the American Bird Conservancy, he’ll be monitoring them via radar from a location north of the city.

Clark and Sheppard were featured recently in an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Will the birds swerve to avoid the beams? Fly higher to avoid them? Or ignore them? Only time will tell.

—Patrick Verel


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