Topanga: Lights Out Birds Out

Migratory songbirds like this Nashville Warbler depend on starlight to navigate. Other long-distance travelers who depend on the stars to get them safely to their Topanga breeding grounds in spring, include thrushes and buntings. Photo by Suzanne Guldimann

Hundreds of birds die each year unnecessarily from light pollution.

As a result of bright, luminescent lights flooding the night sky from skyscrapers and homes alike, hundreds of birds are taken off their migration path and die from either exhaustion or colliding into windows and buildings. The species of birds that are most affected are priority species.

In 2017, nearly 400 passerines were caught and killed via window collisions from a 32-story building in Texas. This same skyscraper now turns off its floodlights at night to protect birds migrating.

Similarly, researchers and volunteers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and NYC Audubon conducted a study to determine how many birds were affected by World Trade Center’s 911 tribute in New York and found, “1.1 million birds—primarily passerines—were influenced by the installation.”

It’s not just birds from nearby; birds traveling distances were affected by the tribute. The study’s findings were clear: there is a relationship between artificial lights at night and birds.

Birds orient themselves using celestial cues at night. When lights are on at night, they believe they are flying towards starlight. They waste so much critical energy flying around the lights, creating distressing noises and attracting more birds, these birds die from exhaustion, and often fly into buildings and windows.

What can Topanga’s community do? If businesses and private homeowners do not turn their lights off after dark, they will adversely affect birds migrating north in the spring, and south in the fall.

Audubon, a nationwide program with centers dedicated to the protection and conservation of bird life, makes the following suggestions to help safeguard these birds’ migration this spring:

  •         Turn off exterior decorative lighting
  •         Extinguish pot and flood-lights
  •         Substitute strobe lighting wherever possible
  •         Reduce atrium lighting wherever possible
  •         Turn off interior lighting especially on higher stories
  •         Substitute task and area lighting for workers staying late or pull window coverings
  •         Down-shield exterior lighting to eliminate horizontal glare and all light directed upward
  •         Install automatic motion sensors and controls wherever possible
  •         When converting to new lighting assess quality and quantity of light needed to avoid over-lighting with newer, brighter technology

These initiatives to protect the wildlife are fundamental to Topanga’s own wildlife. We can’t forget we stand in and are surrounded by parks that are part of a larger ecosystem, where birds come during their migrations for rest. As a community, doing the above will protect the birds on their long, and arduous journeys throughout the seasons.

Protecting the night from light pollution is not only harmful for birds migrating, it will conserve energy and save money. According to the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), “As of 2018, the average American wastes 41-103 pounds of CO2 per year on excessive residential outdoor lighting alone…. This amounts to at least $1.4 to $3.5 billion wasted each yearacross the country—by unnecessarily lighting the dark around our homes.”

Much of our outdoor lighting is unnecessary and avoidable. You can create a beautiful environment with responsible lighting practices. Some practices include: use lighting only when needed; use direct light so it only falls where needed; use light only to the brightness needed; minimize blue light to the amount needed, according to IDA.

Once you’ve addressed your lighting issues, tell your neighbors and small businesses about them also.

Topanga’s community has long stood in support of protecting the environment, its wildlife, and sustainability. Topanga, it’s time for dark skies so the birds can fly by the stars.


By Eleanor Zeri


1 Comment
  1. LED lighting is a catastrophe for humans and birds alike. Overall light pollution has been increasing at an unsustainable 2% per year. Darkness is a fundamental necessity of life, both human and wild, and it’s rapidly disappearing. We need strong government regulations prohibiting light pollution.

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