One of the lucky ones — a migratory ovenbird (a warbler species) that survived hitting an Atlanta building at night. Buildings lit up at night disorient migrating birds and cause them to crash into the structures. Hundreds of millions of birds may die this way each year. CONTRIBUTED BY ATLANTA AUDUBON
Photo: For the AJC
Photo: For the AJC

Douse the lights at night to protect migrating birds

Spring migration moves into prime time in April. In the southern tropics, millions of songbirds — warblers, tanagers, thrushes, vireos, flycatchers — are ready to leave their winter homes and embark on perilous journeys to Georgia and elsewhere in North America for spring and summer nesting.

The great waves of migrants, decked out in spring breeding colors, will fly at night, when the air is cooler and less turbulent, and the risk of predator attack is low. (During the day, they will stop to rest and feed and try to stay hidden in foliage.)

Nighttime flying, however, is also fraught with grave danger to the birds: The bright night lights in tall buildings, homes, communication towers and other structures can confuse and disorient them. Bewildered, they crash into the structures and, mortally injured, plummet to the ground.

More than 365 million birds in the U.S. die annually in this manner, according to ornithologists’ estimates.

To get an idea of the toll in Atlanta, the Atlanta Audubon Society in 2015 launched Project Safe Flight. Volunteers patrol certain sections of the city during early morning hours of spring and fall migrations, looking for birds killed by hitting buildings.

Since then, they have found more than 1,000 dead birds representing 89 species, most of them ruby-throated hummingbirds and Tennessee warblers. The grim toll, though, most likely represents only a small fraction of the total.

To help mitigate the hazard, the society in 2017 started another program — Lights Out Atlanta, in which corporations, businesses and homeowners pledge to turn off or reduce nonessential night lighting during peak spring and fall migration periods. So far, the city of Atlanta, 14 corporations and 300 homeowners have signed pledges.

To learn how you can participate, visit atlantaaudubon.org/loa.html.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be new on Friday (April 5). Mercury is low in the east just before sunrise and will appear near the moon on Wednesday morning. Venus rises in the east an hour before dawn and will appear near the moon on Tuesday morning. Mars is low in the southwest at dusk. Jupiter and Saturn are low in the east just before dawn.

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