Opinion: Migrating birds and light pollution

A green heron is among the numerous species of birds that are often sighted in Burlington County parks.   

Birds are pest control experts. They will feast on slugs, beetles, mosquitoes and other insects that inhabit our gardens. They consume millions of insects, especially in the spring when they’re feeding their young. In addition, seed-eating birds consume great quantities of weed seeds, helping to control unwanted plants.

What you might not know is most species of birds migrate at night using a variety of cues to find their way, including the earth’s magnetic field and the position of the stars. Because birds are particularly sensitive to light when they are migrating, artificial lights at night can disorient them. This is especially the case during cloudy or rainy weather when the celestial cues they use to navigate may not be visible.

Under these circumstances birds may congregate around artificial lights, causing them to collide with various parts of the buildings associated with lights. The Audubon Society reports that bird fatalities are more directly caused by the amount of energy the birds waste flying around and calling out in confusion. The exhaustion can then leave them vulnerable to other threats such as predation.

The good news is we can help. This year’s bird migration has just begun.

Homeowners can take action now to address the issue in their own backyard.

Specific things to do include the following:

  • Turn off spotlights and decorative lighting.
  • Turn off interior lights when leaving a room.
  • Draw blinds or shades if indoor lighting is required after midnight.
  • Use down-shielded lighting outdoors.
  • Where possible, put outdoor lighting on timers and/or motion sensors.
  • Chat with your neighbors and encourage them to join you at reducing light pollution.

The peak spring and fall migration periods are from April 1 to May 31 and Aug. 15 to Nov. 15 between the hours of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. This is the critical time to take action and address the impact of your outdoor lighting.

These small and simple steps have a cumulative impact that is crucial to reducing light pollution and building communities that are healthier for all species.

All information was gathered from these websites:

Lights Out

Here’s how you can go Lights Out!



Susan Brahaney