Wild About Utah: dim the lights for birds at night
Songbirds migrate at night to avoid predators, air turbulence and daytime heat. Down here on the ground we are unaware of the miraculous and essential voyagers flying up to 10,000 feet above us, but thanks to dedicated scientists collaborating for years on end we have free access to the data and graphs of these massive population shifts. The BirdCast Dashboard uses weather radar to track bird migrations, providing real time data showing peak migrations at the website dashboard.birdcast.info.
Did you know that World Migratory Bird Day is celebrated in May and October? Those are the peak months for spring and fall migrations, and the magnitudes of those flocks are considerable. Two thirds of songbirds migrate at night, and on the evening of Sunday, May 15, 2022, one million one hundred and fifty one thousand five hundred (1,151,500) birds crossed Cache County, Utah! Yes, 1,151,500 birds crossed Cache County, Utah, in one night!
It’s important to know when migrations are occurring because skyglow from artificial lighting causes bird disorientation and millions of bird fatalities each and every year. The declining bird population is problematic for many reasons, not least of which because some of the most intrepid travelers like the three-inch-long Rufous Hummingbird, which travels 3,900 miles each way from Alaska to Mexico, are keystone species with ecosystem services such as pollination and consumption of pests such as aphids and mosquitoes.
The Bobolink travels 12,500 miles to and from southern South America every year - those imperiled birds breeding at the west end of Logan may travel the equivalent of 4 or 5 times around the circumference of the earth throughout their lifetime. They come to Cache Valley for the habitat, stay to raise their young, and then head back to their distant winter feeding grounds.
A few top-notch steps toward bird-friendly living include the prevention of light-trespass and skyglow, especially from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., March - May, and August - October. Close curtains to prevent the indoor light from escaping, and avoid blue light outdoors - choose warm white or amber lights, and shield light bulbs to direct light downward. Motion-activated light bulbs are a great way to safely light the way while cutting down on unnecessary outdoor lighting, especially since there’s no clear scientific evidence that outdoor lighting reduces crime. Excess light, on the other hand, is a crime, and light trespass is an enforceable infraction. Light pollution is harmful to humans and deadly for birds.
Logan Mayor Holly Daines signed a Proclamation to Dim the Lights for Birds at Night because reducing skyglow and light trespass saves energy and birds by reducing the often fatal disorientation caused by artificial light.
Dark Skies are filled with bright stars, so by jingles, what say we all Dim the lights for birds at night! I’m Hilary Shughart, and I am wild about Utah!
Sound Credit: Kevin Colver
Tracking a Night-Time River of Birds, BY HANNAH WELZBACKER, APRIL 13, 2021
Global Bird Collision Mapper
Hummingbird Migration Basics
"Bobolink is one of the few grassland-dependent species of concern that breed in Utah."
Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)
Lighting, Crime and Safety
2022 Proclamation "Dim the Lights for Birds at Night"
The use of the “by jingles” exclamation is in homage to Warren Dahlin’s moving Moth Radio Hour story “Open My Eyes”, in which he “makes a friend who stays with him in life and in death.” Heard on Utah Public Radio (5/28/22).