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$10,000: For the birds

Every night, Philly lights up.

Pretty, right? Except that to birds, it can be disorienting. Following the office lights shining through windows — or being confused by them — they slam into the glass and are killed.

When I wrote about the issue in 2000, the Academy of Natural Sciences' Nate said it was common for him to come across dead birds during migration season on his walk from the train station to work.

Ornithologists at Chicago's Field Museum have studied the issue, too. Over about two decades, the museum's David Willard picked 25,000 dead specimens of 140 species from the sidewalk around one particular building — at least one a day during migration.

Now, Philadelphia ornithologist Keith Russell has received a $10,000 grant to do a comprehensive study of how many birds are affected in Philadelphia.

Russell, an outreach coordinator for Audubon Pennsylvania, is one of 40 people selected from competitors nationwide for a "TogetherGreen Conservation Leadership Program," part of a new conservation initiative of the National Audubon Society with support from Toyota.

Partnering with the Philadelphia Zoo at the Academy of Natural Sciences, Russell plans to organize a volunteer monitoring effort to collect data during the 2008 and 2009 migrations. Armed with statistics, he and others can pursue remedies, such as working to get lights turned off at night during migration seasons in Philadelphia's taller, most collision prone, buildings.

The TogetherGreen site notes: "Through the annual Philadelphia Mid-Winter Bird Census that Keith started in 1987, hundreds of volunteers have revealed many excellent birding locations in the city – including a reservoir in Fairmount Park that acts as a haven for waterfowl. That reservoir was slated for demolition in 1997, but thanks to the hard work of Keith and other nature-lovers, not only does it still exist today, but it will soon be the site of a new Audubon Center – a place where more Philadelphians can learn about, enjoy and work to protect the nature around them.

"Thousands of Philadelphians have had the privilege of learning from Keith, benefiting from his tremendous knowledge, gentle manner, passionate love of nature – and uncannily accurate birdsong imitations!"