LIGHTS OUT FOR BIRDS!

September 10, 2021

by Kristen Vale

Nearly two billion birds will be migrating through Texas this fall and we’re just entering the peak of their migration. Birds have just completed nesting and raising their young up north and are making their way south for the winter where temperatures are less extreme and food is plentiful. Fall migration spans a longer amount of time than spring migration, lasting from August 15 – November 30. There is no immediate rush for the birds to arrive to their winter ranges, unlike during spring migration when it’s a mad dash north for the best nesting spot and access to the best resources.

Belted Kingfisher, Photo by Lynne Hughes
Osprey, Photo by Joe Smith

Many of the birds migrating through Galveston this fall may take a direct flight to Central and South America and bypass Galveston completely, like many of the colorful warblers, or make an emergency landing in Galveston to escape storms that make flying difficult and dangerous. Other birds may make planned layovers in Galveston for a few days or few weeks to recharge and refuel before the next leg of their journey, like many shorebirds such as the Semipalmated Sandpiper. And some birds will become winter Texans and stay with us until next spring, like the Piping Plover.

Piping Plover, Photo by Kristen Vale

Whether Galveston is a temporary stop or destination for birds, we can all take one simple step to help birds along their journey – turn out your lights at night.

The majority of birds migrate at night. It’s often safer for the birds because there are fewer predators out and because the stars help guide them on their journey. Unfortunately, bright lights of commercial and residential buildings can attract and disorient birds. This brings birds closer to buildings that have highly reflective and clear glass that birds cannot see, greatly increasing the risk of colliding into the windows and leaving birds vulnerable to threats on the ground, such as free-roaming cats.  Up to 1 billion birds die each year from collisions with buildings and structures in the U.S. alone. Bird populations are already declining rapidly, with 1 out of every 4 birds in the U.S. lost since 1970.

You can help migrating birds and here’s how!

  • Turn off all non-essential lights from 11pm – 6am each night during fall migration, especially during peak migration dates of September 5 – October 29.
  • Do not use landscape lighting to light up trees or gardens where birds may be resting.
  • For essential lights (like security lighting) use the following dark skies friendly lighting practices:
    • Aim lights down
    • Use lighting shields to direct light downwards and to avoid shining into the sky or trees
    • Use motion detectors and sensors so lights are only on when you need them
    • Close blinds at night to reduce the amount of light being emitted from windows

To learn more visit: bit.ly/LightsOutTexas

Kristen Vale works for the American Bird Conservancy as the Texas Coastal Program Coordinator. She works with partners to help protect and monitor beach-nesting birds and nonbreeding birds in the Galveston region. She also works with GINTC as a member of the Bird City Texas team in Galveston.