By Matthew B. Shumar, Program Coordinator, Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative
The Ohio State University—School of Environment and Natural Resources
The transition from September to October sees the diversity of migrating warblers start to wane, but a new wave of northern breeders—including thrushes, sparrows, and kinglets—begin to adorn our trees and shrubs. October brings peak numbers of migrant birds, and Lights Out Cleveland volunteers are busy. In the last six years since the grassroots effort began, volunteers have picked up 16,000 birds from downtown that had collided with buildings, including around 5,000 injured birds that were rehabilitated by the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center and released back into the wild.
A second chance at life for 5,000 birds is huge, and it’s the driver for many of the program’s volunteers. The 11,000 dead birds though, have provided important information for understanding the causal factors behind bird-building collisions, and they have been a powerful force in convincing building administrators and legislators to mitigate problematic building facades that contribute to high rates of collision.
I am getting ahead of myself though. Some of you may be wondering, “just what is Lights Out Cleveland?” Lights Out Cleveland is a collaborative effort to mitigate the number of bird-building collisions throughout the city. Many people may seek out the more pristine parks and preserves for birding during migration, but the most savvy birders know that migrants are everywhere, and in fact, urban areas can attract disproportionately large numbers of birds. If you are out at the right time, every single tree seems to drip with these ephemeral boreal gems.
Most songbirds are nocturnal migrants, guided in part by celestial cues. Artificial light sources in urban centers prove to be a perilous attraction for many passage migrants. Birds can collide with illuminated structures at night, but more substantial effects of brightly lit metropolitan areas occur through changes in stopover behavior. The skyglow of large urban centers can be perceived by migrating birds up to 300 km away, and recent research has shown that migrant stopover density increases at regional scales with proximity to the brightest areas and is subsequently lower in high-quality forested habitats even a few kilometers away from urban centers. It is in these urban landscapes that collision risk is magnified: highly reflective glass is often perceived by birds as an extension of the surrounding vegetation and sky.
Building collisions are second only to predation by free-ranging domestic cats as the largest source of human-caused mortality in birds, and it is estimated that between 365 million and nearly one billion birds are killed by collisions each year in the United States. “Lights Out” and “Safe Passage” programs across the globe have been developed in an attempt to address this problem. Each spring and fall, building managers are encouraged to reduce their lighting as much as possible. The result is that few birds are attracted to urban centers, where they encounter highly reflective and dangerous building facades.
The efforts of Lights Out Cleveland volunteers and partner organizations have started bearing fruit. Last year, Cuyahoga County officials pledged to begin treating glass at county owned and operated buildings in the city, and the facility managers at Rocket Mortgage Field House have renovated their lighting fixtures in a first step towards reducing the number of collisions at their stadium. Buildings at additional locations at Cleveland State University have also treated glass recently. The Lights Out Cleveland volunteers have a lot to be proud of, but the work is far from complete. We need more help. We are seeking more volunteers during this busiest time of the year. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, sign up here: https://www.clevelandmetroparks.com/parks/support/volunteer. For more information on Ohio Lights Out and the regional programs, please visit https://ohiolightsout.org.
Lights Out Cleveland is an effort led by Cleveland Metroparks, the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, the Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative through The Ohio State University, and additional partners throughout the region.
The Feathered Flyer blog publishes human interest stories about birding and habitat conservation.
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