Protect Migrating Birds with Lights Out
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:
- Turn off decorative lighting outside
- Turn off flood lights and recessive lighting (pot lights)
- Do not use strobe lighting if at all possible
- Keep interior lights off on higher stories, or keep windows covered.
- If you have to keep exterior lighting on, turn it downward, or use a downshield.
- Eliminate horizontal lighting which is blinding to the birds
- Use motion sensors for lighting instead of having constantly on
- Assess quality of light, and avoid using brighter tech
- 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!
- 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
Existing Lights Out Programs by City
- Project Safe Flight
NYC Audubon is a grassroots community that works for the protection of wild birds and habitat in the five boroughs of New York City, improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers.
- MAS: Mecklenburg Audubon Society
Turn out the lights when you leave your office for the day, and ask your employer to turn out the lights during spring and fall migration. Turn off upward facing decorative lighting during the migration seasons. Talk to others to educate them on this
- Lights Out Boston
In partnership with the City of Boston and leading building owners and managers, Mass Audubon is working to turn off Boston’s architectural and window lighting at night, saving energy, money, and the lives of migratory birds
- Lights Out for Birds - Golden Gate Audubon Society
Lights Out is a voluntary program where building owners, managers and tenants work together to ensure that any and all unnecessary lighting is turned off during peak migration times.
- Flagstaff Dark Skies Coalition
Flagstaff Dark Skies Coalition celebrate promote and protect the glorious dark skies of Flagstaff and Northern Arizona through successful dark sky practices
- Project Safe Passage: Great Lakes | Detroit Audubon
"By turning off the lights at night, we provide an avenue for the safe passage of our night migrants, the birds and the bats that need the darkness to find
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.
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)
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.