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Toronto has a lights out law to help reduce the effect of light pollution on migrating birds. We must applaud them for making an effort to prevent massive numbers of birds from smashing into tall buildings at night as they fly towards the light. Imagine that you are one of those birds.

Dr. Jeffrey Buler is associate professor in University of Delaware’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology. Over a seven year period, this study mapped the distributions of migratory birds during their fall stopovers. They did this using sixteen weather surveillance radar stations from the northeastern United States. This paper was published on January 19, 2018, in Science Daily. The study examined how light pollution lures birds into urban areas during fall migration. What is the effect of light pollution on migrating birds? Cleary this is a trend that will continue to pose great risk for the birds. Researchers were interested in seeing what factors shape the birds’ distributions and why they occur in certain areas.

Migrating birds are attracted to light

Birds are attracted to light, similar to insects. When visibility is poor, birds fly towards the light. This light will be in the form of lighthouses, stadiums, and tall buildings in our cities. The study took place in the brightest areas of northeast cities, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC. Quoting Dr. Buler, “These are super-bright, large metropolitan areas. We found an increasing density of birds the closer you get to these cities. The effect goes out about 200 kilometers [about 125 miles]. We estimate that these flying birds can see a city on the horizon up to several hundred kilometers away. Essentially, there is no place in the northeastern United States where they can’t see the sky glow of a city.”

And then the birds who have not yet crashed into a tall, brightly lit building, find themselves looking for habitat in a very dangerous city. They don’t know it’s a city, all they know is what they experience. Cats and cars, crowding and weird food. As we know, some adapt and make the city their home, but most do not.

We can minimize the effect of light pollution on migrating birds

Really, there has to be a better way. Those other beings with whom we share the planet, how can we not care about them? But in our current greed “environment,” few people even seem to care about other humans. Especially if they look different. Birds look really different and they don’t even act like us.

Just think about that. This is normal for us. All of it. And, nearly everyone living on the planet today has lived with a bright night. And yet that night is still getting brighter and brighter longer and longer. LED lights are adding to the problem exponentially, it seems. To me this points to a broader cause of the problem, which has been to ignore scientists’ recommendations in favor of “ratings” by people who are so used to such brightness anything would take some getting used to. These lights must be warmer and there must be fewer of them. We will adapt, we really must adapt to so many new things every day, if only we open our eyes and our hearts to see.


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