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Why turning off your lights at night can save a bird’s life

‘Lights Out Northeast Florida’ highlights impact lights have on bird’s migration

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Did you know that leaving your outside lights on at night during the fall and spring season can impact a bird’s migration journey?

Billions of birds migrate south for the winter and north for the summer ever year, and 70-80% of those birds migrate at night. To help, the Duval Audubon society, the St. Johns County Audubon society and the Jacksonville Zoo are launching a new program called “Lights Out Northeast Florida.”

“They migrate in the dark to avoid predators and they use the light from the moon and stars to navigate," explained Carolyn Antman, with the Duval Audubon Society.

Migrating at night comes with challenge -- one of the biggest being artificial lights from cities.

“The artificial light from the big cities tends to confuse them, they have trouble navigating through the cities, they collide with buildings, they fly around in circles, they get exhausted and just drop on the ground," Antman said.

Northeast Florida is part of the Atlantic Flyway, a predetermined path that birds migrate along the East Coast.

Fall migration goes from September to November, and you can help by following these simple tips:

  • Turn off lights during 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
  • Direct your lights to point downward instead of upward toward the sky
  • Switch flood lights to be motion activated or timed
  • Encourage businesses to turn off exterior lights

“In an ideal situation, people would just turn out their lights completely," said Lucas Meers, with the Jacksonville Zoo. “But we understand that there are some safety concerns with turning out your lights at night, people feel a little bit safer with lights on.”

Jacksonville isn’t the only place working to help the birds. As reported by the New York Times, birds can be seen yearly circling the two beams of light that shine over Manhattan on Sept. 11 at the 9/11 memorial site. Scientists and volunteers work together to count the trapped birds, and when the number gets to around 1,000, the lights are switched off for 20 minutes to let the birds disperse.

NEW YORK CITY - SEPTEMBER 11: Birds and a helicopter fly through the annual Tribute in Light as they appear over lower Manhattan in New York City on September 11, 2017. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY - SEPTEMBER 11: Birds and a helicopter fly through the annual Tribute in Light as they appear over lower Manhattan in New York City on September 11, 2017. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images) (2017 Gary Hershorn)

If you need to leave your lights on for security reasons you can always look into putting them on a timer to go out from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. You can also make them motion sensored so they’re not on all the time.

Also remember that this is not an all year request, just during the fall and spring migration period.

You can help us share the message by using the hashtag #lightsoutforbirds on social media.


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