Baltimost: Aaron Heinsman, 47, volunteer with Lights Out Baltimore

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Courtesy of Aaron Heinsman.

Baltimost is a Baltimore Fishbowl feature series that asks locals what they love about their city. The idea is to celebrate Baltimore and the people who make it so unique.

So what makes Baltimore the Baltimost to you? It could be a favorite place, a great meal, a memorable interaction or something else entirely. Email suggestions to Karen at [email protected]

Aaron Heinsman, 47, volunteers with Lights Out Baltimore, an organization that helps injured birds.

In his words: “I’m one of those crazy city dwellers. I don’t have a car. I live and work in Mount Vernon, and I walk to my job as director of advancement for Maryland Humanities.

About six years ago, I became a volunteer with Lights Out Baltimore, a program of the Baltimore Bird Club, which is part of the Maryland Ornithological Society. 

During spring and fall migration seasons, we get up early and walk a particular route downtown, looking for birds that collided with windows during the night. If the birds are injured, we collect them and take them to the Phoenix Wildlife Center for rehabilitation. If they’ve perished, we give the bodies for either research or museum collections.

It’s actually a huge issue. An estimated billion birds a year perish this way, globally. Birds migrate at night using stars. They get attracted to urban centers and when office buildings keep the lights on, the birds can’t perceive the windows unless the glass is treated. 

I volunteer two days a week, on average. My route includes Charles Center, Hopkins Plaza, the Baltimore Convention Center, 100 Light Street and about a dozen more buildings.  

I start at 6 a.m. and it takes three hours. The city is very sleepy when I start. The folks who are out are typically service workers and, of course, a lot of homeless. Then it shifts to the commuters and the traffic cops with their whistles. You definitely wake up with the city. You see the sunrise over the harbor. It’s a nice perk for a sad problem.

Our goal is to find no birds. That means it was a safe night. But on a typical day in spring, we’ll find four to six dead birds, and in fall it’s maybe eight to 10. We might find one injured bird a day.

We have a permit from the federal government to handle the birds, which technically are wildlife.

We use nets to pick them up, but sometimes they’re so stunned that we just pick them up with our hands. Some people wear gloves, but the veteran volunteers don’t. By handling them, we can gently stroke them and sometimes that brings them out of shock.

We put the injured birds in brown paper bags. It dims the light and that calms them.

One thing I love about Baltimore is the peach upside down cake at Dovecote Café in Reservoir Hill. It’s not pineapple, so it’s a little unexpected. It’s moist and sort of sweet, but not too sweet. The café has a welcoming environment. It’s for everyone and the food is fantastic.”



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