Natural Area Preservation

Safe Passage Great Lakes Days

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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.

Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution to support Safe Passage Great Lakes Days on March 16, 2009. You can read the resolution here.

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 can be safely picked up, please transport it to a rehabilitation facility, such as the Bird Center of Washtenaw County, as soon as possible. Follow the steps below:

  1. 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 Howell Nature Center at (517) 548-5530 for instructions on how to handle it.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Please call the Bird Center of Washtenaw County at (734) 761-9640 for instructions on transporting the bird to their clinic. If necessary,  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.
  5. Do not give the bird food or water as this can be very dangerous for a stunned bird. It can even kill the bird.

For more information about the Washtenaw Safe Passage Program, see the pages here and here.

Birds cannot see glass, only reflections of the surrounding habitat and sky. For this reason, they often hit windows during the day as well. For ways to make your windows safer for migrating and resident birds, check out information from the American Bird Conservancy and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

If you find a dead bird, you may contact the Bird Division of the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology to donate the bird to their collection of research specimens. Contact Collection Manager Brett Benz (bwbenz@umich.edu) or Curator Ben Winger (wingerb@umich.edu). Place the bird in a tightly closed plastic bag and put it in your freezer until you are able to make arrangements to drop it off. Include a note with the species, date found, location, possible cause of death, and your name. 

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3875 E. Huron River Dr.
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Dave Borneman
  Deputy Manager
Tina Stephens
  Volunteer & Outreach Coordinator
Becky Gajewski
  Stewardship Specialist
Michael Hahn
  Stewardship Specialist