More than 250 species of night-migrating birds fly over Michigan during their spring and fall migrations, March 15th to May 31st and August 15th to October 31st. Although these birds use multiple navigation strategies, most rely in some way on the stars and moon. As birds fly through our well-lit urban areas, the lights of our taller buildings often disorient them. The birds, confused by the lights, will circle the lit buildings until they either die from exhaustion or collide with the structure. Scientists estimate that hundreds of millions of birds die as a result of encounters with these brightly-lit tall buildings.
Turning off lights on the fifth floor and above between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. (sunrise) during peak migration seasons can not only help prevent these deaths, but also save electricity. Simply drawing the blinds can also help prevent bird deaths. Programs similar to the Safe Passage Great Lakes program are already in place in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, and Toronto and have resulted in significant reductions in migratory bird deaths. Michigan Audubon Society is working with Detroit Audubon Society and other local Audubon groups to make this a statewide effort. As a part of this effort, the State of Michigan has proclaimed the periods of March 15 to May 31 and August 15 to October 31 as Safe Passage Great Lakes Days.
Property owners of tall buildings are encouraged to join the Safe Passage Great Lakes efforts by turning off their lights or closing window shades and drapes at night. Individuals can help by turning off lights when they leave an office or a residence, and to raise awareness of the fatal light problem by discussing it with family, friends and colleagues. Individuals who live or work at night in buildings with five floors or higher and who wish to minimize fatal light problems can also help in the following ways:
- Use blinds and curtains to conceal lighted areas if working after 11 p.m. during Safe Passages Great Lakes days, March 15 to May 31 and August 15 to October 31.
- Use desk lamps and task lighting to minimize perimeter lighting.
- Re-schedule night work, such as arrange for custodial services in tall buildings to work from the top down so the floor lights are off from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. (dawn).
- Establish interior working areas for night activities.
Turning lights off from the fifth floor and up will not only protect the lives of many birds that fly over our city at night, but will save money, conserve energy, and reduce pollution as well.
If you find a bird that has been injured or killed due to a window collision, call the Bird Center of Washtenaw County at (734) 761-9640 for instructions on how to handle it. Remember, injured or stunned birds may look like dead birds, and several bird species, such as raptors or sharp-billed waders (for example, herons) may be dangerous if approached inappropriately.
If the injured bird is a small, non-raptor bird in a high-traffic location and moving it is essential for its safety, please remain calm and:
- Place a flat folded paper towel in the bottom of a non-waxed paper sack or box. A paper grocery or sandwich bag is ideal, or a box with small holes in it. Most birds will do well in a smaller sack, but larger birds such as catbirds, rails, woodcocks, thrashers and woodpeckers, should go into a paper grocery sized bag or box. If you find an injured raptor or heron type bird, call the Bird Center of Washtenaw County at (734) 761-9640 for instructions on how to handle it.
- Gently pick up the bird and put it into the bottom of the bag or box. Try to keep the bird upright. Fold down the top of the bag and clip it, and/or close the box so that the bird cannot jump or fly out.
- Put the bag or box in a dark, quiet and protected location (preferably indoors). Do not open the bag to check on the bird, this is dangerous the bird may try to escape and cause further injury. If the bird is active, please put another towel or blanket over the box or bag. Light makes them active.
- Please call the Bird Center of Washtenaw County at (734) 761-9640 and leave the time, your name, a number where you can be reached and your location. If you cannot rescue the bird, leave the above information and the location and condition of the bird.
- Do not give the bird food or water as this can be very dangerous for a stunned bird. It can even kill the bird.
Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution to support Safe Passage Great Lakes Days on March 16, 2009.
Washtenaw Audubon's Safe Passage Program information is posted at http://www.washtenawaudubon.org/.