Claim: Ground-level artificial lights disrupt bird migration

Nevertheless, birds have somehow survived electrification.

The media release is below.


Ground-level artificial lights disrupt bird migration

It’s not just lights on skyscrapers that can impact migrating birds–new research in The Condor: Ornithological Applications demonstrates that even ground-level artificial lights can affect birds passing overhead at night.

Most birds migrate at night, and artificial light disrupts migrations in a variety of ways, throwing off birds’ natural navigation abilities and even attracting them to fatal collisions with buildings. The bulk of the research on how lights affect birds has been focused on lights on tall structures like skyscrapers and cell towers, but most artificial lights are actually near ground level–street lights, porch lights, and car headlights, to name just a few.

Matt Watson, David Wilson, and Daniel Mennill of the University of Windsor recorded the flight calls of migrating birds passing overhead during the 2013 fall migration in southern Ontario, Canada, comparing sites with and without ground-level artificial lights. Analyzing 352 hours of recordings, including the calls of at least 15 bird species, they found that significantly more flight calls were recorded at lit sites than at dark sites. “By pointing microphones at the night sky, we can survey migratory birds based on the quiet sounds they produce in flight,” says Mennill. “This simple technique offers a special opportunity because we can resolve particular species of birds, or groups of species, using a fairly simple technology.”

“It was exciting to find that even low-level anthropogenic lights affect call detections from migrating birds,” adds Watson. Their findings have several possible explanations–ground-level lights could be disorienting birds, causing them to call more often and decrease their altitude as they attempt to straighten themselves out, or they could actually be attracting additional birds, as has already been documented with higher-elevation lights. In either case, artificial lights are causing migrating birds to waste energy, which could affect their chances of surviving their journey.

This study underscores importance of studying the consequences for wildlife when human activities alter the natural environment. “Anthropogenic light has profound effects on wild animals. For migratory birds, we know that lights on top of skyscrapers, communication towers, and lighthouses disorient and attract birds,” says Mennill. “Our study reveals for the first time that even low-intensity lights on the ground influence the behavior of migratory birds overhead.”


6 thoughts on “Claim: Ground-level artificial lights disrupt bird migration”

  1. So where is the concern about the obnoxious windmills which actually kill millions of birds & bats EVERY YEAR IN THE US ALONE.
    Many are alleged to be ‘threatened species’; eagles, condors, hawks, etc.
    ‘US windfarms kill 10-20 times more than previously thought’
    “In 2012, breaking the European omerta on wind farm mortality, the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO/Birdlife) reviewed actual carcass counts from 136 monitoring studies. They concluded that Spain’s 18,000 wind turbines are killing 6-18 million birds and bats yearly (3).

    Extrapolating that and similar (little publicized) German and Swedish studies, 39,000 U.S. wind turbines would not be killing “only” 440,000 birds (USFWS, 2009) or “just” 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats (Smallwood, 2013) (4), but 13-39 million birds and bats every year!

    However, this carnage is being covered up by self-serving and/or politically motivated government agencies, wind industry lobbyists, environmental groups and ornithologists, under a pile of misleading studies paid for with more taxpayer money.”

  2. Studied this subject a few years ago. Turns out the real problem is the presence of tall buildings. Flocks of birds can travel at night and they smack right into them. There isn’t much info on the effects on ground lighting except to interfere with starry night viewing.

  3. Humans need to be near water sources. So do birds. Maybe correlation sometimes reflects causation?

  4. “significantly more flight calls were recorded at lit sites than at dark sites.” *COULD* mean that the birds are using the lit sites as navigational references – VFR as the pilot call it.

  5. This is the same theory as that saying the increasing number of Walmarts is responsible for the increase in chubby girls wearing spandex. It’s all their fault unless you like it.

  6. The cause of the disappearance of the Rocky Mountain Passenger Pigeon has finally been found!

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