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Turn off your lights at night and save birds migrating across Texas

Turn off your lights at night and save birds migrating across Texas

Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin
Very pretty but no good for the birds. Photo by David Hensley/Getty Images

Texans can save birds' lives by doing a simple little thing: turning off their outdoor lights overnight.

It's part of a campaign called Lights Out Texas, a partnership between the Texas Conservation Alliance, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Dallas Zoo, and the Perot Museum.

Their goal: raise awareness of how light pollution kills birds that are migrating across the state every spring and fall.

According to the Texas Conservation Alliance, artificial bright lights at night cause birds to become disoriented and distracted. Colliding with building windows and walls is the second biggest cause of deaths for migratory birds. (The first is feral cats.)

Each year, between 365 million and 988 million birds are killed when they collide with buildings.

This map by the Audubon Society shows what a big light hog many of Texas' major cities can be, including Austin.

Audubon says that lights throw birds off their migration paths. They get attracted to the bright lights, then fly around, circle aimlessly, cluster up, and call out in confusion. The exhaustion makes them vulnerable to other urban threats.

Within one week in 2017, nearly 400 warblers and other birds got caught in the floodlights of a 32-story skyscraper in Galveston and were killed via window collisions. The building eventually shut off its lights.

Cornell Labs launched a study of the effects of light in early 2020 and began its campaign of encouraging residents and businesses to turn off lights overnight in April, which is when the spring migration occurs.

Birdcast says that one of every three birds migrating through the U.S. in spring passes through Texas.

The fall migration period is expected to last from September 5 through October 29. For the next seven weeks, more than 1 billion birds will fly over Texas on their annual fall migration, and they mostly fly at night.

Your mission: Turn off your outdoor (and indoor) lights between 11 pm-6 am through Halloween. Here are ways to contribute to the Lights Out solution:

  • Turn off exterior decorative lighting
  • Extinguish pot and flood-lights
  • Substitute strobe lighting wherever possible
  • Reduce atrium lighting wherever possible
  • Turn off interior lighting especially on higher stories
  • Substitute task and area lighting for workers staying late or pull window coverings
  • Down-shield exterior lighting to eliminate horizontal glare and all light directed upward
  • Install automatic motion sensors and controls wherever possible
  • When converting to new lighting assess quality and quantity of light needed, avoiding over-lighting with newer, brighter technology