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Nature Notes: light pollution and migrating birds

Let’s flip the switch on this problem and help migrating birds get to their destinations safely.
Yellow-rumped warbler. Bruce Taylor Photo

Between Patagonia and Alaska, birds are on the move, in the millions. Being within the path of the Pacific Flyway, May is peak northbound migration month for our area.

For some birds this means they’ve reached their nesting grounds near the Lower Mainland and for others it means the journey continues further north, where nesting sites and food to feed their chicks are plentiful.

Birds encounter many challenges on these long journeys including finding places to rest and eat along the way. Using weather patterns and the stars, 80 per cent of migratory birds navigate this journey at night.

If birds begin a night of migration, and a weather event such as rain or fog develops, they can get distracted by man-made lights. When this happens, buildings and yards lit up at night can cause them to go off-course, become exhausted and increase the chance of collisions with the light source and nearby structures. Shockingly it is estimated that up to one billion birds die in building collisions in North America each year.

But there are simple things we can do to help. The simplest is to turn off the lights in our houses and office building at night or by using window coverings in cases where we can’t. In our yards, if we use spot lighting to illuminate features (especially if they’re facing up), we can put them on a timer to have them go off when we’re asleep, reducing your electricity bill as a bonus. Outdoor lighting that can’t be turned off should be shielded and directed downwards. Some North American cities have implemented ‘lights out’ programs during peak migration times.

Let’s flip the switch on this problem and help migrating birds get to their destinations safely.

If you find an injured bird, please call the Wildlife Rescue Association at 604-526-7275.

Editor’s note: Nature Notes is a monthly column produced by the Delta Naturalists and their community partners. For info on monthly meetings and more, see and