Denver, CO

How does turning your lights off help migrating birds?

Claire Cleveland

By Claire Cleveland / NewsBreak

(Denver, Colo.) Over the next few months, billions of birds will migrate worldwide. Many will pass through Colorado at night.

April is Lights Off for Bird Migration Month.

"In the coming weeks, tens of millions of birds - from statuesque sandhill cranes to smaller meadowlarks and bluebirds - will pass through our state, marking a yearly pilgrimage that Coloradans have marveled at for generations," said Lt. Governor Dianne Primavera in a statement.

During nocturnal migration, lights from buildings, parking lots and highways cause problems for birds. The light in buildings can cause birds to collide with windows, which sometimes causes the death of entire flocks.

New research from Colorado State University shows light hampers bird migration.

“These birds are drawn into the light,” said Zach Hutchinson, community science coordinator for Audubon Rockies. “The birds were basically getting trapped in the lights. They would fly into the lights and circle in there for an extended time. That’s a lot of energy expenditure and not making progress.”

If birds spend too much time around lights, they risk losing energy or not being able to forage for enough food, which can keep them from their final destinations.

What you can do

  • Turn off exterior decorative lighting and flood-lights
  • Substitute strobe lighting where possible
  • Reduce atrium lighting where possible
  • Turn off interior lighting, especially on higher stories
  • Substitute task and area lighting for workers staying late or pull window coverings
  • Down-shield exterior lighting to eliminate horizontal glare
  • Install automatic motion sensors and controls wherever possible
  • When converting to new lighting, determine how much and the type of light needed while avoiding over-lighting with newer, brighter technology

“Because of the immense scale of development in Colorado, we need as many people as possible to help by turning off and shielding their lights,” Richard O’Brien, International Dark-Sky Association Colorado chapter member, said in a news release.

While more than 80% of birds migrate at night, they’re also susceptible to window collisions during the day. Placing bird deterrent decals on windows can reduce the number of strikes.

Lights Out Colorado is a partnership between the Colorado chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association, Audubon Rockies and Denver Audubon. The statewide initiative works to educate and encourage community members and businesses to reduce light pollution.

You can join the effort and sign a pledge online to help migratory birds and learn more about shielding lights and how to encourage your local governments and businesses to get involved.

To celebrate spring migration, Lights Out Colorado is hosting a free webinar with Kyle Horton, a scientist from Colorado State University, at 7 p.m. April 13 online.

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Claire Cleveland is a Denver-based freelance writer with a background in health and science reporting. She's covered the pandemic extensively and local news in Colorado. Previously, Claire was a reporter and producer for Colorado Public Radio.

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