Lights out


Spring is here and the songbirds are coming back! Robins and red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows and grackles are already cheerfully chirping, soon to be followed by the warblers, wood thrushes, and countless others. Their journeys are astounding. The much-loved bluebird has a ‘medium range’ migration, merely flying from the Southeastern US or Mexico for a Canadian nesting season. The tiny hummingbird, meanwhile, travels over 6500 kms from Southern Mexico!

Although seemingly resilient, bird populations are in trouble. In fact, they’re diminishing. One of the main reasons is light pollution. Cities are obviously the main culprit with so many brightly lit office buildings and tall condos. Birdlife International states that 78% of Canadian birds migrate, most of them flying at night. They become confused by the lights and too often crash into the windows of these towers. Nature Canada estimates 25 million birds collide with windows each year resulting in injury or death. A dead bird cannot reproduce.

As cities expand into suburbs, more light is added to new areas: streetlights, headlights, decorative exterior lighting, even interior lighting, all add up to more confusion for the migrating birds, making their journey more hazardous. Suburbs spread into the countryside, spreading the light even further. Imagining life without these heralds of spring is unthinkable. But what to do?

The good news is there are organisations with helpful suggestions. One of the first was FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program) which started in Toronto in 1993. The Audubon Society ‘Lights Out’ program website also offers clear examples of what you can do in and around your home. The key suggestion is turn off any non-essential lighting at night, particularly during migration seasons: March through May and August through October. This will give the birds a better chance to raise a brood – which will hopefully return to cheer us next year.

Thanks for your consideration.

Elspeth Butterworth