How to be Bird-Friendly: Lights Out for Birds

By Lily Rerecich.

The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has hundreds of flights each day. But on nights during the spring and fall migration season, we share our skies with millions of flying birds. During this time, throngs of migrating birds will take wing during the night, navigating under the stars to faraway destinations.

This is because Central Texas is a major migration flyway for birds. So much so, we even forecast for migration patterns — check out Bird Cast. Millions of birds fly through our region to the places they will spend the winter. Many species journey as far as the Caribbean, the Amazon Basin, and elsewhere in Central and South America. Some birds will even cross the Gulf of Mexico in one flight! Their odyssey is not just astonishingly difficult, but hazardous – and humans are contributing to that.

Migrating birds face the danger of light pollution. Our use of excess artificial lighting blocks natural light like the stars, which animals use for navigation, and brightly lit buildings confuse birds as they are flying, resulting in fatal collisions with lit windows in massive numbers.This a devastating loss of life that we can prevent.

We can protect birds from light pollution by simply turning off lights at night. With the flick of a switch, we have the power to save them. In fact, according to a study by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, turning off lights can reduce the number of fatal strikes in the fall and spring migrations by 6 and 11 times respectively. Plus, we see a clearer, darker sky, too.

Here are some tips you can use:

Outdoor Lights: Turn off unnecessary lights. Lights we use for visibility and safety can be pointed down; glaring lights make it harder to see and add to light pollution. According to James Madison University, “More light doesn’t make us safer! Smarter use of light does.”

Indoor Lights: Turn off lights you aren’t using. When you have lights on, you can use curtains and blinds to maintain a dark, bird-friendly environment outside while maintaining comfort inside. For larger scale indoor lighting, like that of commercial buildings, leaving lights on costs a lot of money; more efficient lighting solutions can reduce the cost and the harmful impacts on birds.

Air travel has been problematic for people lately, making headlines with flight cancellations and airline meltdowns. It presents us with obstacles like busy airports, expensive dilemmas, and stressful chaos. As birds embark on their own travels, they too will face obstacles – but these may cost them their lives. And that is too high a price to pay. We have the power to stop this.

You can take action today by turning off the lights. You can make the world a better place, with one simple action. So lights out for the birds!