Most birds migrate at night, and the big cities along their migration routes can be like obstacle courses. Feathered travellers can be befuddled and thrown off course by the dazzling lights of buildings and towers and crash into windows or flutter against them until they drop from exhaustion. Thousands of migrating birds often die in one spot in a single night. Survivors may get lost in a maze of skyscrapers and eventually starve to death.
Many of the casualties are species in serious decline, such as the red-eyed vireo, ovenbird, and Swainsonss thrush. Fortunately, a group called FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program) is making a big flap about this ongoing crisis in Toronto, where over 100 bird species have been recorded dying this way. Volunteers look for feathery victims at the feet of downtown skyscrapers between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. during migration months (April to June and August to November). Birds that are stunned are put in safe resting places and freed outside the city. The seriously injured are sent to a bird rehabilitation centre. Dead specimens are collected for scientific research.
Here are some things you can do to help migrating birds in Canadian cities:
- Write to the owners and property managers of big buildings or towers that are lit up at night. Explain the problem and ask them to turn out the lights between midnight and dawn.
- Write to the headquarters of the power company in your area. Ask them to encourage building managers to turn off their lights at night. It will save the lives of a lot of birds and precious energy.
- Prepare a one-page fact sheet about the problem. Talk to experts and gather details. If you work in a brightly-lit city building, distribute copies of your fact sheet to coworkers. Perhaps one person on each floor could be responsible for turning out lights or closing blinds after work.
- Make a brief presentation to your city council and ask for support.
- Let the local media know what you're up to.
- If you're not sure that migrating birds are experiencing this kind of trouble in your city, find out. Learn if your municipality is on or near a migration route. Speak speak to the property managers of office towers that are lit up at night. Tell them you're doing a migratory bird survey and ask if they find dead or stunned birds at the feet of their buildings in spring and fall. If so, contact your provincial wildlife agency, or talk to members of a local birder's club to see if they're aware of the problem.
- FLAP would like to hear about other groups and individuals helping migratory birds in this way. Check out their website (linked above) or call 416-366-FLAP.