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Protect Migrating Birds with Lights Out

Updated on October 17, 2018
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Karen lives in Jackson, MS, with her husband and son and works as an accountant. She enjoys writing, reading, and the D&D role-playing game.

What's Happening, & Why I Care

Migrating birds in Spring and Fall face horrible death when traveling through cities.

Since they use the stars to navigate, they travel at night. Light pollution disorients them and causes untold thousands of birds to die unnecessarily.

Here are some ways to help stop the problem.

My mother was a lifetime member of the Audubon Society, and growing up I learned to appreciate our feathered friends. It was an article by Audubon about this issue that prompted me to write this Hub. Mom always had bird houses and fed the birds constantly. I remember helping her make peanut butter pine cones with sesame seeds stuck to the pb. We spent quite a bit of time, even when she was older, watching the birds in her backyard, and often participated in annual bird counts. It breaks my heart that so many birds die every year just trying to get to their Spring or Fall nesting places. We humans have a responsibility, I believe to keep these at risk species from dying out.

Birds in Danger: Varied Thrush


Where the Varied Thrush Migrates

In the fall, these chubby and lovely birds with a sweet singing voice travel (down) toward the Upper Midwest and Northeast U.S. from Northwest Canada and Alaska, where they breed. They can be found year round along the Washington & Oregon Coast, but migrate inland and along the California coast.

Cities in their path: Vancouver, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland, Salem, Eugene,Medford, Redding, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, and Fresno.

While the species is fairly common, it was listed in "Steep Decline" in 2014. One of the primary reasons is that they are prone to window strikes, which can be greatly reduced by dimming lights in cities at night during migration periods.

Migration pattern of the Varied Thrush


What We Can Do to Help: At Home and at Work

During primary migration periods: April/May and September/October, during the night, especially between midnight and sunrise:

  1. Turn off decorative lighting outside
  2. Turn off flood lights and recessive lighting (pot lights)
  3. Do not use strobe lighting if at all possible
  4. Keep interior lights off on higher stories, or keep windows covered.
  5. If you have to keep exterior lighting on, turn it downward, or use a downshield.
  6. Eliminate horizontal lighting which is blinding to the birds
  7. Use motion sensors for lighting instead of having constantly on
  8. Assess quality of light, and avoid using brighter tech
  9. Contact managers and owners of high-rise buildings in the path of migratory birds and ask them to help by instigating the above measures in their buildings. Here is a sample letter to use. Remind them of the electricity they will save!
  10. If you can't turn them off all nights, check the BirdCast website to see when there are birds migrating in your area.


U.S. Cities with Existing Light's Out Programs

Big shout out to your city if you live in one of these areas!  Don't see your city?  Get something started!  Below are links to some of the more successful lights out programs.
Big shout out to your city if you live in one of these areas! Don't see your city? Get something started! Below are links to some of the more successful lights out programs. | Source

Migrating Songbirds in Great Lakes Area


Bird Injuries From Collisions With Windows

More Birds in Danger: The Golden-winged Warbler

This smaller-than-a-sparrow songbird travels quite the distance! They summer in the northern great lakes area, (with some in the appalachian mountains) and winter down in the southern portions of South America, including Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

That leaves quite a large swath for migration, which includes several states! Some cities in their path include Minneapolis on the western side, along with Green Bay, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto. On the Northeastern side, cities in their path include Portland, Providence, Albany, NY City, Philadelphia and Washington DC. Moving central and south, the Golden-wing can be found migrating through Pittsburg, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St Louis, Louisville, Nashville, Knoxville and Atlanta. A large number tend to fly through Florida, namely Tampa, Orlando, and Miami, as well as the Texas coast including Houston and Galveston.

The population of these little buzzy-sounding birds has declined quite a bit - almost 68% since 1966. Their population is one of the smallest among birds who are not already endangered. If their decline keeps up at the rate it has, they are certainly headed to the endangered list, in my opinion! But we can help them immensely by getting the word out about Lights Out programs.

Golden-winged Warbler


A Tragedy in Galveston

In May of 2017, nearly 400 birds, consisting of warblers, grosbeaks and others were killed when they flew into the windows of the American National Insurance building. The 20 white beam floodlights around the building perimeter drew them in and caused mass confusion.

It is not all bad news, though. The building is participating now in the Lights out Initiative, which hopefully will soon be adopted by the entire city of Galveston.

A few of the birds were rescued from the massacre by the Gulf Coast Wildlife Rescue in Texas.

ANI Building in Galveston: Before and After Lights Out


Fatal Light Awareness Program: FLAP Canada

FLAP Canada started 25 years ago and has built quite a reputation in helping to educate the public and protect birds from both day and night collision. To get an idea of how bad the problem is, they have a counter on the top right corner of their website which tabulates a running estimate of the number of migratory birds that die while you are visiting the site. I had left it up for a little while, and when I came back and first noticed the counter, I was astounded!

FLAP Canada: 25 Years Saving Bird Species

Allen's Hummingbird: The Littlest In Danger


Population of Allen's Hummingbird Declining

According to Partners in Flight, the population of these tiny and adorable birds were down 83% from 1970-2014 and are predicted to lose another 50% of their population by 2031.

Allen's Winter mostly along the California Coast and Summer in Mexico between Guadalajara and Puebla City. Their primary migratory routes are central to East California, most of Southern California, The southern half of Arizona, and Eastern Mexico down to Mexico City.

Cities in their path:

In the U.S.: Sacramento, Fresno, Baja, Bakersfield, Phoenix, Tuscon

In Mexico: Hermosillo, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara

Other Birds in Danger

In addition to skyscrapers, communication towers also pose a serious threat to migrating birds, much for the same reason, the lights. An article in Smithsonian from 2013 cites research on 13 threatened species in North America due to these lights.

97% are passerines (songbirds)

Yellow Rail

Golden-winged Warbler

Swainson's Warbler

Red-eyed Vireos


The situation is most problematic during storms and when it is overcast. The stars not being visible combined with the false light confuses the birds. By blinking the lights on the towers instead of keeping them on non stop, this threat has been greatly reduced, but the situation is still dire from tall buildings.

Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918

1918 statute makes it unlawful without a waiver to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell birds listed therein as migratory birds
1918 statute makes it unlawful without a waiver to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell birds listed therein as migratory birds | Source

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