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Does Turning Out The Lights Help Birds Migrate?

Did you know that up to one billion birds die in the US each year by colliding into buildings?   Most of these deaths occur during migration seasons, as billions of birds migrate north in the spring and south in the fall.  Many birds migrate at night.  The birds collide into buildings when they become disoriented by the bright artificial lights emitted by buildings at night.  Those that do not collide into the buildings are still at greater risk of dying. because artificial lights can throw birds off their migration path, making them exert excess energy, and, in turn becoming more vulnerable.  

This problem is especially rampant in urban areas. To paint a picture of how large of an issue this is, just this year in early October, it is believed that between 1,000 to 1,500 birds died in Center City, Philadelphia, due to building collisions caused by artificial light pollution in a single night.  There is research showing that turning off bright lights helps birds move through these urban areas more quickly and safely.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and New York City Audubon discovered that turning off the lights of the 9/11 memorial, for just 20 to 30 minutes at a time, greatly reduced the number of birds in the area, where normally hundreds of birds die each year. 

While the loss of wildlife is tragic, there are luckily things we can do to prevent these unnecessary deaths. The Audubon Society launched a “Lights Out” program to help reduce this problem.  The “Lights Out” program encourages building owners and managers to turn off excess lighting at night, particularly during migration seasons.  

You can take part in the “Lights Out” effort at home and encourage those you know to do the same.  Here are some simple steps the Audubon Society suggests: 

  • Turn off exterior decorative lighting at night.

  • Minimize strobe lighting whenever possible.

  • Minimize atrium lighting when possible.

  • Turn off interior lighting at night, particularly on higher stories.

  • Use black-out curtains to contain interior light.

  • If you need exterior lighting, use motion sensors to limit it to when it is necessary.

  • Down-shield exterior lighting so it does not create horizontal or upward glare.

Not only will these efforts help to save the lives of countless birds.  These efforts are also energy-efficient, and better for our planet.  Plus, they will save you money in the long-run.  Additionally, these efforts offer a clearer night sky for better star gazing!

Do your part by taking efforts to reduce artificial light pollution.  Keep in mind that these efforts are particularly important during bird migration seasons.  You can look up peak migration times close to where you live, to make sure you are minimizing light pollution during the most crucial times: https://www.perkypet.com/advice/bird-watching/bird-migration-facts/timing.  

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