Let There Be Dark – #WATWB

Attribution: Pitt News

I don’t like to repeat elements of stories in the #WATWB posts, but I am returning to The Cathedral of Learning this month. As you know, if you follow this blog, the cathedral is the signature building on The University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) campus, and a symbol of the proud city in which it was built. It’s also my favorite building. Unfortunately, the building has come to be involved in a prideful act that has unfortunate consequences. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,

“The powerful blue beams that shine vertically from Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning signal sports wins for university teams, but the ‘victory lights’ also can disrupt migrating birds and cause them to crash into the building.

The pillar of blue light radiating from the top of the 535-foot National Register of Historic Places landmark may block the paths of birds migrating at night, confusing them and trapping them within the beam and potentially lead to fatal collisions.”

Researchers first noticed this behavior during the times in which the symbolic two “towers of light” beam skyward at the site of the former World Trade Center in New York, on the anniversary of the attack that toppled the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

From the study:

“When the installation was illuminated, birds aggregated in high densities, decreased flight speeds, followed circular flight paths and vocalized frequently,” the report said…

When the lights were extinguished the behavioral disruptions disappeared, suggesting the migration hazard could be eliminated by simply turning off the lights.”

After this study was released, staff from the Pittsburgh Audubon Society chapter notified Pitt administrators of the potential problem with the victory lights.

“During bird migration, many species travel at night. These birds may become trapped and disoriented in the vertical beams of light. As the birds become trapped, there is increased risk of collisions and bird death,” said Rachel Handel, Audubon spokeswoman.

Football season, unfortunately, corresponds with the height of the fall migration.

“In perfect conditions, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, millions of birds could be moving regionally during peak migration time, throughout the night,” said Ms. Handel.

Of course, I had to chuckle, noting that in recent years, there haven’t been many occasions to shine the victory lights during football season, but this year is looking better (the lights were on last night) and like most Pitt alumni, I am optimistic about the future. I am also happy to report that the university is working with the Audubon Society to address the problem:

“The university quickly indicated its willingness to cycle the lights on for 45 minutes, then off for 15 minutes,” said Ms. Handel. “The lights will be monitored, and adjustments made as necessary.”

I am proud of the university for agreeing to act and to continue to monitor the situation. I wish them many more opportunities to shine the lights, but in an environmentally friendly manner.

The “We are the World” Blogfest has extended its year-long journey and is in its 18th month. This blogfest’s goal is to spread the message of light, hope and love in today’s world. We are challenging all participants to share the positive side of humanity. This month’s co-hosts: Eric Lahti, Inderpreet Uppal, Shilpa Garg, Mary Giese and Roshan Radhakrishnan, welcome participants and encourage all to join in during future months. #WATWB is a blog hop on the last Friday of every month. Click HERE to check out the intention and rules of the blogfest and feel free to sign up at any time between now and February of 2019.

Once again, you can enjoy a few of my favorite images of the Cathedral of Learning


  1. I never thought about birds flying at night and the effect artificial light would have on them. Kudos to the Cathedral of Learning for their willingness to address this issue. And if this doesn’t work, I hope they will step up to the plate and tackle the issue more aggressively. I like Pam’s idea!!

    Great photos Dan. Magnificent building, inside and out.
    🔹 Ginger 🔹

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ginger. they have been lighting the building for years. I think they could do a special color or pattern to celebrate the sports wins. With all the ambient light in the city, it has to be hard enough to fly over (I also didn’t realize that they fly at night). I do like the fact that they listened and stepped up right away, without conducting their own years-long study, as is so often the route taken. Have a great Sunday!


  2. Lighting buildings and monuments is something done everywhere now. The Eiffel Tower didn’t used to be shown under different lights when I lived in Paris. Too much lighting is indeed bad for many reasons. I read that even residential lights in backyards alter the sleep pattern of wild animals and attract them closer to houses they avoided when left in the dark.
    This morning I also read your post as an homage to Pittsburg now dealing with so much sorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading, Evelyne. We have been selecting outside lighting for the garage I am working on, and it’s very hard to find fisxtures that aren’t over-the-top for distance and brightness. We live in a closely packed neighborhood, and it would be easy to light the neighbor’s yard.

      Thank you also for the comment about Pittsburgh. The University of Pittsburgh is very close to Squirrel Hill. I’ve been there many times, and I was very sad to read about this shooting yesterday. It’s truly senseless and it has affected so many lives. We have visited Pittsburgh often, and we have been welcomed in shops and restaurants all over the area.


  3. Hi Dan – I quite agree with you … we are learning so much more about our wildlife … they’ve just realised whales behaved differently after 9/11 when there was no shipping. It’s good the University is working with the Audubon Society … I do hope they can come to some sensible solution … thanks for highlighting – Pittsburgh must be in mourning … not easy at all – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a very sad day in that city, Hilary. It’s hard to think about sports, but sports are part of the fabric of Pittsburgh. Pitt is very close to the neighborhood where the shooting took place.


  4. This is such a beautiful building, Dan. We had the same problem on the beach with sea turtles and lights from the various condos and restaurants. All business had to change their lighting so as not to confuse the turtles. Poor little ones have it hard enough as it is….

    Liked by 1 person

    • GP mentioned that. I never would have imagined. There’s so much we don’t understand about the way we effect wildlife. At least Pitt is working to solve the problem. Thanks for the Sunday visit.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m glad the Cathedral of Learning has been educated about migratory birds and has put their welfare over and above a light of victory. Kudos to the Cathedral and thanks, Dan, for participating in this month’s WATWB.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I can’t get past the image of those poor birds trapped in two beams of light, flying around in circles and being unable to escape (even though they could, if they simply tried). I can hear their distressed calls for help. It sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I haven’t seen a bat in a long, long time and recently I considered that it may be due to light pollution in the city. Too much light destroying the bat’s hunting grounds. We did a project involving high masts, and during the handover phase, one of the things we were required to do was to educate the community members on the benefits of the project, and thus instill in them a sense of ownership of the project. It was a government project. Towards the end of my presentation, a technician from the county asked me how to calculate the angles at which to position the high mast lamps. I went too deep in answering and ended up mentioning light pollution (if the lamps were positioned poorly). As soon as. I mentioned light pollution, everybody burst out with laughter. They found the concept funny, thinking that there is no such thing as pullution from lighting. So I explained how the animals were being affected by it, how you couldn’t see a bat in Nairobi, even a lone one. How nocturnal insects are also becoming fewer and fewer, even moths! And how all these disappearances were affecting the ecosystem and even humans themselves. When I was finished everyone was quiet, and sad.
    I’m glad the university found a way to deal with the problem. Thanks, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Peter. I think you went the right amount of deep. With LED lighting gaining in brightness and coming down in price, I worry about an overuse of lighting options. Between that and building into their habitats, wildlife around our cities is in trouble.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think someone mentioned earlier, Audrey that balance is required. The problem is, we’re getting/creating more and more things that have to be balanced. Sorry about the K State thing, but my undergraduate alma mater is WVU, sooooo,


    • Thank Deborah. The building has been lit up at night as long as I can remember, but the victory lights are relatively new. I’m glad they are amenable to finding a solution. Birds are threatened enough these days.

      Liked by 1 person

    • You should. In addition to the gothic Commons room, the first three floors are home to a couple of dozen “Nationality Rooms” which are completely constructed and decorated in the tradition of a particular geographic or cultural region.


    • Thanks Eric. The building is my favorite, it’s so beautiful. The first three floors (interior) look like you’re in a gothic castle.

      I am glad they are addressing the problem. I only became aware of it when I read the original article.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I had no clue about this migratory bird problem. Thanks for bringing it forward. Now, I understand why most of the migratory birds never visit Mumbai. They are usually hopping around my town which is on the outskirts of the city and with so many mountains and lakes there is hardly any light here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sharukh. I ‘m sure the birds prefer your area to the bright lights of the city. I wasn’t aware of this problem either, but I’m glads they are trying to address it.


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