NTXIF 2024

Keep migrating birds in the dark

by | Sep 6, 2023 | Latest, news

Birds that collide with buildings are sent to Texas A&M for study. Courtesy photo

By Bob Wieland | [email protected]

Glass is a prime enemy of birds, especially during the spring and fall migrations, researchers at Texas A&M said.

It was estimated that up to one in four birds were lost to collisions with buildings and other structures, mainly caused by light pollution, as they fly by night. 

“Light pollution can cause birds to become disoriented and attracted to our urban centers where they encounter one of their top enemies, glass,” said Heather Prestridge at Texas A&M. “Because birds see differently than we do, they can’t detect the glass and often fatally collide with it.”

Prestridge is curator at the Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections (BRTC) in the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology at the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. 

She has a simple solution to help birds get home: turn out the light. 

Prestridge and other conservationists urge Texans to turn off nonessential lighting between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. during the fall and spring migration seasons.

The full fall migration period is Aug. 15 through Nov. 30 with the critical fall peak migration period Sept. 5 through Oct. 29, according to Texas Audubon.

The full spring migration period is March 1 through June 15 with the critical spring peak migration period from April 22 to May 12.

Texas is on the Central Flyway, a migration corridor shaped like an hourglass: wide at the northern end, narrowing through Nebraska, and then widening as it passes through Oklahoma and Texas. Nearly 2 billion birds comprising 300 species transverse Texas during the migrations.

The “Lights Out, Texas!” program was established to focus on urban communities. But Prestridge said all regions should support the dark sky initiative. And while lights may be necessary for safety and security, Prestridge urged using them sparingly and responsibly.

The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) has standards to ensure the night sky was “relatively free of interference from artificial light.”

IDA outdoor lighting certification would require a fixture to be fully shielded and emit no light above the horizontal plane. 

In Princeton, the lights in Municipal Park have solar panels atop the bulbs, providing light from pointing up.

According to bird migration forecast maps, nocturnal migration reports begin three hours after local sunset and are updated every six hours by Colorado State University, UMassAmherst and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The interactive maps are live at https://birdcast.info/ .

The “Lights Out” program has been credited with producing 11 times fewer bird collisions during the spring migration and six times fewer collisions during the fall migration. 

Research has found Chicago was the country’s deadliest city for migrating birds, followed closely by Houston and Dallas. That data is based on the work of volunteers who collect birds that died as a result of light pollution. The Texas Conservation Alliance, tcatexas.org, coordinates the effort to send birds to the BRTC at Texas A&M.

“We have a robust and ever-growing group of collaborators from within and outside the university that are interested in using “Lights Out” birds for their research projects, Prestridge said.

A “Lights Out, Texas!” exhibit at the A&M Memorial Student Center displays a variety of birds killed by collisions. The exhibit is designed to educate the public about the importance of the initiative. 

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