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Lights Out Louisiana to help protect billions of migratory birds flying over state

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Posted at 3:57 PM, Aug 15, 2023

BATON ROUGE, La. — The Louisiana Wildlife Federation (LWF) is calling on residents and businesses across the state to join others in turning off bright or excessive lighting from 11 pm to 6 am each day between August 15 and November 15 to help protect the billions of migratory birds that fly through Louisiana at night during this time.

Louisiana is located on the Mississippi Flyway, and the state's vast wetlands, forests and coastline serve as critical stops along the birds' migration routes, according to LWF. During the 2022 fall migration, an estimated 478 million birds passed through Louisiana. The majority of these birds migrate at night, typically beginning their nighttime migration about 30 to 45 minutes after sunset, with peak flights between 10 and 11 pm.

While dark skies allow migrating birds to avoid predators, take advantage of calmer air, and use the moon and stars for navigation, they also pose other dangers, such as bright artificial lights and skyglow from larger cities, which can confuse birds and often lead to fatal collisions with buildings or windows.

“Our city lights can misguide birds, diverting them off course with often dire consequences. This initiative is an easy yet impactful step in helping these birds continue their incredible journey,” Rebecca Triche, executive director of LWF, said. “Louisiana is well-known for the populations of migratory birds we see here at different times of the year and people care about keeping wildlife sustainable. By supporting the Lights Out initiative, businesses and individuals can take a practical step to protect the birds that briefly call Louisiana home.”

According to the National Audubon Society, which started the first lights-out program in Chicago in 1999, just one building in a community with bright lights could be a big deal, citing a week in 2017 in which nearly 400 birds died after flying into the windows of a 32-story Texas skyscraper because of its floodlights.

Dr. Dan Scheiman, Plants for Birds Program Manager for Audubon Delta, said, “Following that incident, the skyscraper in question joined many other buildings in Houston Audubon’s Lights Out for Birds Program, saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of birds. Each year in the United States an estimated 1 billion birds die by colliding with windows. This number is not sustainable. Every building, every Lights Out program helps reduce this threat to ensure the long-term health of our bird populations.”

Dr. Phil Stouffer, the Lee F. Mason Professor in the LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources, has been studying the problem on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge and leads the LSU Bird Window Collision Monitoring Project, which has been in existence for five years. On the LSU campus, the group has recorded 569 dead birds representing 75 species. The most common victims during the fall migration have been the common yellowthroat, ruby-throated hummingbird and ovenbird.

“This is a problem that can be overcome,” Stouffer said. “Reducing illumination is one of the easiest approaches that we can all take. Dark skies also benefit other wildlife, and we humans might see a few more stars.”

One Lousiana building participating in the Lights Out project this fall is the Center for Coastal & Deltaic Solutions, located on the banks of the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge at the city's old municipal dock. The building, which is owned by the Wilbur Marvin Foundation and houses the Water Institute, will turn off its large overhead lights during the designated Lights Out times.

Beaux Jones, acting president and CEO of The Water Institute, emphasized the importance of the Lights Out initiative, stating, “Living in Louisiana, a vital migration route, is a birder’s dream. Yet, it poses navigation hazards for migrating birds. The support from the Wilbur Marvin Foundation makes this endeavor even more significant to me and aligns with The Water Institute's commitment to ecological sustainability.”

Individuals and organizations wanting to join others in the Lights Out Initiative should follow these guidelines:

  • Turn off non-essential lights nightly from 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. during the migration period.
  • Avoid using landscape lighting on trees or gardens where birds may be resting.
  • For essential security and safety lighting, use these dark skies-friendly lighting adjustments:
    • Aim lights downwards.
    • Use light shields to direct light downwards and prevent an upward glare.
    • Use motion detectors and sensors so lights turn on when needed.
    • Close blinds at night to limit the amount of light seen through windows.
  • For building owners/managers:
    • Adjust custodial schedules to be completed by 11:00 p.m.
    • Ensure lights are turned off after custodial cleaning.

Additional Guidelines for Buildings Over 3 Stories:

  • Dim or turn off:
    • Exterior/decorative lighting.
    • Lobby/atrium lights.
    • Perimeter room lights on all levels.
    • Floodlights.
    • Lighting on interior plants/fountains.
    • Lights on vacant floors.
    • Lights with blue-rich white light emissions (over 3000 K in color temperature.)
  • Instead use:
    • Desk lamps or task lights instead of overhead lights.
    • “warm-white” or filtered LEDs outdoors (less than 3000 K in color temperature.)

Migration routes, along with the timing of the flight, can vary from day to day due to a number of factors such as the weather conditions. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology BirdCast dashboard, on Monday, August 7, there were an estimated 550,700 birds that crossed Louisiana during the night. Exhibiting the vast difference in flight paths, 276,400 of those birds were estimated to have flown over the Shreveport/Bossier City area, while only 11,200 birds were estimated to have flown over the Baton Rouge area.

Just a week earlier though, the Baton Rouge area had an estimated 56,100 birds fly over in one evening. During last fall’s migration period, on September 13, 2022, the Baton Rouge area had 436,100 birds cross the region, compared to 123,100 birds in the Shreveport area. On that night alone, more than 3.5 million birds migrated across Louisiana.

Individuals can monitor the bird migration in their area by using BirdCast, a migration dashboard provided by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Dashboards for Louisiana and selected cities are:

Louisiana - https://dashboard.birdcast.info/region/US-LA

Alexandria – https://dashboard.birdcast.info/region/US-LA-079

Baton Rouge – https://dashboard.birdcast.info/region/US-LA-033

Houma – https://dashboard.birdcast.info/region/US-LA-109

Lake Charles – https://dashboard.birdcast.info/region/US-LA-019

Lafayette – https://dashboard.birdcast.info/region/US-LA-055

Monroe – https://dashboard.birdcast.info/region/US-LA-073

New Orleans – https://dashboard.birdcast.info/region/US-LA-071

Shreveport – https://dashboard.birdcast.info/region/US-LA-017