Living in Harmony with Wildlife - Bird Migrations & Light Pollution

Fall brings cooler weather, gorgeously colored foliage, pumpkins, apple cider and it is the time when many bird species migrate south for the winter. This is a very difficult time for these birds. Their long trip south requires a lot of energy and timing is critical for survival. Many bird species migrate at night and these birds depend on the use of natural light from the moon, stars and setting sun to guide them and keep them on the right track to their winter destinations. In this modern age of artificial light and skyscrapers birds are finding it increasingly more difficult to stay on the right track and this often results in mass fatalities.

Street lights, security lights, lights in our houses, in buildings, billboards and the combination of all of these create that haze of light in the night sky over populated areas. These things drown out the light of the stars and moon and can even mimic the light of the setting sun in the distance. The artificial lights confuse the night migrating birds especially on moonless or foggy nights. The birds flock towards the artificial lights and in their confusion fly into windows and walls resulting in fatal injury or unconsciousness and fall to the ground. In other cases they fly around these light sources in circles until they fall to the ground in exhaustion. Birds that have fallen stunned or exhausted often fall victim to predators.

This not just a few birds here and there, birds are killed in this way bi-annually in the thousands. The general urban population is often not aware of this problem because the bodies of the birds are often cleaned up in the early hours of the morning before many people are out and about. This not only affects birds, but other migratory animals such as turtles, frogs and salamanders that also use light in the night sky for migration.

What is being done to combat this issue and what can you do to help? Some cities such as Portland, Washington DC, New York City and Toronto are participating in the Lights Out Program. This is a nationwide program in which businesses in these cities turn off any unnecessary interior and exterior lighting at night during migratory periods (Spring: late February – early June, Fall: late June – early December). Cities and residents are encouraged to install light fixtures that focus light downwards. Residents are also encouraged to turn off exterior lighting and close their curtains or blinds at night. Not only does this help to save the lives of thousands of birds, it also saves business owners and residents money in their energy bills.

Several local and state organizations are participating in the Ohio Lights Out Campaign working with business owners and managers statewide to adapt these bird friendly and cost saving practices. There has been a large focus on getting Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo to begin their own regional programs.

So do your part and turn off unnecessary lights and draw your blinds during migratory periods and encourage business in order to show support for Lights Out Cleveland!


Audubon Society of Portland

Bird Note

Black Swamp Bird Observatory

Crane Creek - Magee Birding

FLAP Canada

Light Pollution Kills Birds in the Environment

National Geographic

Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative


Blog Author: Kelly Parker, Urban Conservationist

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