One of the most extraordinary events in nature has begun—autumn bird migration. Starting now, reducing or eliminating nighttime lighting can make the journeys safer for the more than one billion birds that migrate through Texas. The Lights Out Texas project even sends an alert for nights that will have the heaviest bird migration traffic and when cutting the lights will do the most good.
Lights Out Texas asks that homeowners, businesses, and managers of tall buildings eliminate or reduce lighting between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. during the September 5 through October 29 migration window.
Light pollution can disorient migrating birds and that may be especially true with millions of birds hatched this year making the journey for the first time," says Richard Gibbons, Conservation Director of Houston Audubon.
Nationwide each year, studies estimate 365 to 988 million birds are killed when they collide with buildings.
"A lot of those birds die smashing into Texas buildings, disoriented by residential and commercial lighting," says Ben Jones with Texas Conservation Alliance. "The birds die stressed and confused, and for nothing—which any Texan would tell you 'just ain’t right.'"
Houston Audubon and Texas Conservation Alliance are teaming up with the Houston Zoo, Dallas Zoo, the Perot Museum, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and others to drive home the Lights Out Texas message.
It’s possible to forecast when the heaviest migration traffic will be coming through.
BirdCast, a collaborative migration monitoring program, will issue special alerts on nights when migration over Texas cities will be intense. These forecasts come from models based on weather and radar data, using algorithms that extract the bird information from the weather data.
"Starting this fall, those interested can subscribe to city-specific alerts that highlight when our models say migration will be intense, and when turning off nonessential lights is imperative for protecting migrating birds," says Cornell Lab researcher and BirdCast leader Andrew Farnsworth.
Lights Out Texas is also a research project.
Scientists from the Cornell Lab and Colorado State University are developing best practices for reducing light at night to save as many migratory birds as possible from injury or death. The goal is to come up with a migration playbook for Texas cities that other regions can use, too.
"Fall migration brings a greater volume of birds passing through than spring migration, and lasts for a longer period of time," explains Julia Wang, who heads up the Lights Out project for the Cornell Lab. "Consequently, mortality due to building collisions also appears to be consistently higher during the fall migration period, especially among warblers."
Learn more about Lights Out Texas and sign up for migration alerts: birdcast.info/lights-out
"To be a real wildlife hero, reduce light pollution during migration and consider other ways you can lessen the many threats birds face," says Houston Audubon’s Richard Gibbons.
Texas Conservation Alliance's Ben Jones says, "Nothing so powerful has ever been so easy. Nothing in nature knits our hemisphere together more tightly than birds do and Texas is essential to their future."
BirdCast Lights Out Alerts are funded in part by grants from the National Science Foundation, Leon Levy Foundation, NASA, Wolf Creek Foundation, Edward W. Rose Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission