Migration can be a hazardous time for the billions of birds that make the journey each spring and fall, with thousands, if not millions, dying along the way after colliding with windows.
As Catrin Einhorn documented for The New York Times, however, “skyscrapers aren’t the leading culprit” in these collision deaths.
“Homes and low-rise buildings account for the vast majority of collisions, in part because there are more of them, and because birds rest and forage close to the ground,” Einhorn reported.
Thankfully, you can help birds reach their destinations safely with one simple home hack.
What causes the birds to fly into windows?
A guiding factor for birds is the Earth’s magnetic field, but they also use the sun, stars, and moon to gather their bearings.
Unfortunately, light pollution from homes and businesses can confuse birds’ internal compasses or trick them into thinking window reflections are the real thing, causing them to drift off course. Light pollution has also negatively impacted other winged creatures.
Simply turning off your lights at night — which is when most birds travel — will help prevent these deaths. As the Times noted, the bulk of collisions happen with low-rise buildings because birds search for food and rest closer to the ground.
Blackout curtains, patterned decals on windows, and motion sensors for outdoor lighting are other options to minimize the negative impact of light pollution.
According to the National Library of Medicine, bird collisions with buildings are the second-largest cause of death in the avian population due to human activity.
Why should you care about birds?
Without birds, our ecosystem would fall woefully out of balance. Our winged friends worldwide eat an estimated 440-550 million tons of insects each year, including pests that can affect our food supply or spread diseases like mosquitoes do. Bird migration also has positive impacts on plant life.
Searching for a food supply is the key motivator for migration, according to National Geographic, which noted that nesting needs and weather are also considered factors. The changing temperatures of our planet may also be affecting avian travel patterns.
“Turning off nonessential lights is like a no-brainer,” Andrew Farnsworth, an ornithologist at Cornell University, told CNN after a deadly mass collision of birds in Chicago. “It saves energy, it’s good for human health, and it stops birds from being attracted and disoriented.”
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