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Bright lights have dark impact on song birds migrating through Utah

Posted at 7:06 PM, Feb 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-28 21:06:50-05

SALT LAKE CITY – Tracy Aviary and Dark Sky SLC have launched a new campaign, asking people to shut off their lights to make a big difference for migrating song birds.

“In North America alone, every year, one billion song birds die in building collisions,” said Jessica Dwyer, the chapter lead for SLC Dark Sky Association.

It’s caused by one thing: the bright lights that come alongside a big city.

Salt Lake City is said to be one of the fastest growing places in America, drawing in more people and businesses every year. You could say Utah’s capital is literally shining bright.

“Electric light has revolutionized our world, and in no way am I saying the consequences are purely negative," said Dwyer, “We just don’t know to think about it.”

All of that boom and bustle is taking a dark toll on migrating birds.

“We are at a place where two migratory pathways converge, so we have millions of birds every year crossing pathways trying to get from south to north or reverse,” Dwyer said.

But these migrating birds are dying by the hundreds.

"The trouble is a lot of them fly at night," Dwyer said. "They do that to avoid predators, because it’s cooler. The winds are calmer."

She said song birds have done this using celestial cues from the stars, but when our cities are lit up that’s no longer available to them.

“If you think of like a moth going towards a porch light, it’s very similar, so they get drawn down towards this light that is kind of unfamiliar,” said Cooper Farr, the conservation scientist at Tracy Aviary.

They become disoriented, crash and die.

“No one’s ever looked at this in Salt Lake City before,” Farr said.

Until last year when Tracy Aviary conducted a small study. They sent out a group of citizen scientists a few times during the migrating seasons from March to May and August to October.

“In just 20 city blocks we found 44 birds representing 19 different species,” Farr said of their findings.

But they say those numbers only scratch the surface.

“It’s so easy to fix, all we have to do is turn off our lights,” Dwyer said.

Tracy Aviary and Dark Sky SLC are now launching their Lights Out campaign, an effort to have residents and businesses turn off their lights at night from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. during main migrating months (March to May, August to October).

“It costs nothing, it’s easy, and it has a really big impact,” Dwyer said.

The agencies are encouraging people to take the Lights Out Pledge, to show support for the initiative. They are also offering incentives for businesses that want to get involved.

To find the pledge, click here.