Letter to the Editor: Promoting safe passage for migrating birds at night

BY ALEX DOPP

Published March 18, 2009

Every year, more than 250 species of birds, including warblers, thrushes, and tanagers, fly through Michigan during their spring and fall migrations. These birds rely most heavily on the stars and moon as a guide in the night. As birds fly over our well-lit urban areas, the lights — especially those from buildings over four stories tall — can disorient them. The birds will circle the bright buildings until they die from exhaustion or collide with the structure.

Many communities are helping prevent the frequent deaths of night-migrating birds. By turning off lights on the fifth floor and above in urban buildings between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. during peak migration seasons, many birds can be saved. Some cities, such as Chicago, New York, Minneapolis and Toronto, already have these programs in place. The Michigan Audubon Society is working with Detroit Audubon Society and other local Audubon groups to make bird death prevention a statewide effort. As a part of this effort, the State of Michigan has proclaimed the periods of Mar. 15 to May 31 and Aug. 15 to Oct. 31 as Safe Passage Great Lakes Days.

Individuals who live or work at night in buildings with five or more floors (including University buildings, such as residence halls) can help to minimize fatal light problems. Individuals can help by using blinds and curtains to conceal lighted areas if working after 11 p.m., using desk lamps and task lighting to minimize perimeter lighting or using interior working areas for night activities.

Turning lights off from the fifth floor and up will not only protect the lives of many birds that fly over our city at night, but will save money, conserve energy, and reduce pollution as well. For more information, visit Washtenaw Audubon's Safe Passage Program at http://www.washtenawaudubon.org/.

Alex Dopp
LSA Senior