Lights Out! Asheville
The Coalition for a Bird-Friendly Asheville encourages all business owners, residents, and building managers to extinguish non-essential outdoor lighting between Midnight and 6AM during the Spring and Fall. Lighting that cannot be safely extinguished should be addressed and modified to meet bird-friendly, International Dark Sky Association standards. Sign our pledge to show your commitment to reducing light pollution, saving energy, and helping birds!
It's simple: Save energy and save birds!
How to Participate
1. Sign the pledge form and commit to making your home or business safer for migrating birds!!
2.Turn off unnecessary outdoor lighting between midnight and 6am during the fall and spring
3. For lighting that cannot be extinguished: install warm temperature lightbulbs OR install down-shields on fixture to prevent light leakage/escape OR both!
4. Close blinds/curtains/shades at night to prevent light leakage
5. Spread the word about the program. The success of this program relies on as many people participating as possible!
Many birds migrate at night using natural light cues like the moon and stars. Unfortunately, light pollution emitted from urban centers, like the city of Asheville, disrupt migratory birds along their nighttime journeys. Brightly lit buildings draw birds towards cities, making them susceptible to the many lethal threats posed by the human-built environment (e.g., fatal window collisions, predation, etc). From our best current scientific understanding, hundreds of millions of birds die in the U.S. every year because of this. Fortunately, a simple thing like turning out lights can help birds navigate our environment and protect them from unnecessary harm. A landmark study conducted by the Field Museum in Chicago showed that by turning the lights off in one building, the number of birds killed there dropped by over 80 percent.
The city of Asheville exists along a major migratory path for birds – the Appalachian Mountains. As part of the greater Atlantic Flyway, our mountains serve as a migration route for hundreds of species of birds, many of which are declining in population. On a peak migration night during the Spring or Fall, over 50,000 birds pass over Asheville every hour. A paper published by Horton et. al. in 2019 placed the City of Asheville among the top 125 significant cities in the United States that produce migration-disruption light pollution during both the spring and fall migratory seasons. Mayor Manheimer recently signed a proclamation that designates March-May and September-November as “Migratory Bird Awareness Months,” and has entrusted Blue Ridge Audubon Chapter and the Coalition for a Bird-Friendly Asheville to create a Lights Out program that is supported by the Asheville residential and business community.
Save Energy! Save Birds!
Turn off your lights to save migrating birds at night. Read on for more information about migratory birds, Lights Out! Asheville, and how easy it is to make your home or business safer for migrating birds this fall.
Twice a year, neotropical migratory songbirds take on a daring journey between their summer and winter habitats. In North America, there are nearly 340 different species of neotropical migratory birds that make a bi-annual journey between South/Central America and North America (National Audubon Society 2022). Certain species will even travel thousands of miles to return to the same cavity nest each year to raise their young. The majority of these migratory species migrate at night, utilizing cues from the night sky to navigate successfully to their summer and winter habitats (or to that single hole in that one red oak in Pisgah National Forest). Pretty amazing, right? We think so, too.
Western North Carolina sports some pretty impressive diversity when it comes to neotropical migratory bird species. In fact, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mt. Mitchell State Park, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are three of the top ten birding hotspots in the entire state (Thompson 2017). Locally, Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary hosts over two hundred different species of birds throughout the year, from nesting neotropical migrants to wintering waterfowl (National Audubon Society 2016). With that kind of diversity, it’s no surprise that you can find avian-inspired art within many of Asheville’s galleries and creative markets. And, if you haven’t seen the massive murmurations of Chimney Swifts entering historic roosting chimneys across the city during their Fall migration in late August-early September… put it on your list of things to do this year. Trust me, it’s epic. Neotropical songbirds have been using the Appalachian mountains as a migratory corridor for millennia, long before the aggressive expansion of the human-built world began. We are fortunate to have so many different species of songbirds moving through our area each year.
Songbirds are flying into extinction at an alarming rate!
Migratory songbirds are becoming increasingly threatened by human-altered landscapes and human activity. North America has lost nearly thirty percent of all songbirds since 1970 (Rosenberg et. al 2019). If that statistic did not bring you to pause, this one definitely will: each year, in the contiguous United States alone, roughly one billion birds die from collisions with human-made structures (Loss et. al 2014). One. Billion. This is the second leading cause of migratory songbird death in the U.S., with feral and domestic cat predation accounting for nearly four billion deaths per year across the same geographic range (please keep your cats inside) (Loss et. al 2013).
Fatal bird-window collisions comprise the majority of collision-related songbird mortality. If you’ve ever walked into a closed glass door, then you know how easy it is to overlook the barrier that is a solid pane of glass. Fortunately, humans are well accustomed to glass in our environment, and very rarely will we walk into a reflective window whilst thinking we are walking into a lovely landscape. Unfortunately, most birds do not have that same level of understanding. Most birds cannot perceive glass as any type of barrier. A reflection of a tree or shrub might as well be the real deal when viewed from a bird’s eye. When you couple this with the fact that most birds also only require a distance of three feet from take-off to collision to suffer fatal injuries, and that 98% of window-collisions result in death (Veltri and Klem 2005), the lethal threats of lush landscapes surrounding modern glass buildings in human-built environments begins to become more apparent.
There are many great products available to make windows and glass surfaces more visible to birds, many of which are inexpensive. From window films to sticky notes, you can make windows at your home and business bird-friendly. Check out our website for a plethora of resources concerning bird-safe glass. There is also another way you can help migratory songbirds, one that helps prevent birds from entering our disorienting human-built environments in the first place…
Lights Out! Asheville: Turn off your lights to save birds at night.
Recall how most neotropical migratory birds travel across vast amounts of the landscape at night, utilizing light cues from the night sky to navigate. Light pollution is a problem from cities that can draw migratory birds off course, attracting them into those confusing, glass-filled, human-built environments. Some lights have a similar effect on birds as they do on moths and other insects; the bird will become hopelessly trapped by the light, circling until exhausted.
The 9/11 memorial lights in New York City are a perfect example of this, and fortunately, there is now protocol in place where the beams of light are turned off intermittently to allow for the dispersal of disoriented birds (Barnard 2019). The memorial lights are a perfect example of how Lights Out! programs work: turn off lights that attract migratory songbirds so they can continue their journeys. It’s important to note that large beams of light shining into the night sky are not the only sources of light pollution dangerous to birds.
Sky glow from heavily developed areas has a similar effect. The city of Asheville is listed within the top 125 U.S. cities that produce migration-disruption light pollution in the Spring and Fall (Horton et. al 2019). During peak migration nights in both seasons, over fifty thousand birds per kilometer-squared pass over the city every hour (BirdCast 2022). That amounts to over one hundred million birds flying over the city in a single night (BirdCast 2022). That’s a whole lot of birds! While we may not know for certain what exactly it is about light pollution that attracts many different birds, we do know that reducing light pollution helps birds along their migratory journeys.
The Lights Out! Asheville initiative has the goal of reducing the sky glow emitted from the city during the Spring and Fall to give these birds safe passage as they fly by our human-built landscape. In February of 2022, the Coalition for a Bird-Friendly Asheville prepared a proclamation that designates March through May and August through November as “Migratory Bird Awareness Months”. Mayor Manheimer signed this proclamation that same month, signaling that the Lights Out! program makes sense for the city (Miller 2022). Asheville has now joined over 40 other cities across the U.S. in this initiative as a way to move the city closer to its 2030 energy goals. The city has been working diligently to reduce light pollution emitted from its properties, but city buildings alone do not produce the bulk of light pollution in Asheville. Residential and commercial properties need to be addressing outdoor lighting as well. The program requires community involvement to work.
Perhaps at this point in the article, you find yourself wondering how you can reduce light pollution at your home or work to save birds and reduce your energy costs. It’s quite easy: turn off unnecessary outdoor lights from midnight to six AM during the Spring and Fall. Motion sensors on all outdoor lighting are also great, as the light will only be on when it’s needed. Also, close your blinds or shades at night to prevent light leakage, utilize task lighting, and turn off lights in rooms that are not being used. For lights that can’t be extinguished for security purposes: install a down shield over the fixture and utilize warm-temperature LED bulbs.
These simple changes will reduce light pollution emitted from your home or work, provide energy savings benefits, and help birds! We think it’s a pretty simple request - turn off your lights to save birds at night. As a reminder, the success of this program relies on community participation! So spread the word to your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, uber driver, dog walker, etc... Better yet, sign our pledge form (see link below) and share it within your social networks! Your participation will be celebrated on our website (www.birdsafeavl.org) and if you’re a business owner, we’ll give you a small decal to display in your business to show your participation.
Barnard, Anne. “The 9/11 Tribute Lights Are Endangering 160,000 Birds a Year.” The New York Times. September 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/09/nyregion/911-tribute-birds.html.
BirdCast. “Migration Dashboard.” BirdCast, 2022. https://birdcast.info/migration-tools/migration-dashboard/.
Horton, K.G., C. Nilsson, B.M. Van Doren, A.M. Dokter, and A. Farnsworth. “Bright Lights in the Big Cities: Migratory Birds’ Exposure to Artificial Light.” Front Ecol Environ, 2019. https://doi.org/:10.1002/fee.2029.
Loss, Scott R., Tom Will, Sara S. Loss, and Peter P. Marra. “Bird–Building Collisions in the United States: Estimates of Annual Mortality and Species Vulnerability.” The Condor 116, no. 1 (February 1, 2014): 8–23. https://doi.org/10.1650/CONDOR-13-090.1.
Loss, Scott R., Tom Will, and Peter P. Marra. “The Impact of Free-Ranging Domestic Cats on Wildlife of the United States.” Nature Communications 4, no. 1 (January 29, 2013): 1396. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms2380.
Miller, Kim. “Mayor Manheimer Proclaims Bird Awareness Months.” The City of Asheville, February 8, 2022. https://www.ashevillenc.gov/news/mayor-manheimer-proclaims-bird-awareness-months/.
National Audubon Society. “Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act.” Audubon, 2022. https://www.audubon.org/conservation/neotropical-migratory-bird-conservation-act
National Audubon Society. “Birding in North Carolina.” Audubon, 2016. https://www.audubon.org/news/birding-north-carolina.
Rosenberg, Kenneth V., Adriaan M. Dokter, Peter J. Blancher, John R. Sauer, Adam C. Smith, Paul A. Smith, Jessica C. Stanton, et al. “Decline of the North American Avifauna.” Science (New York, N.Y.) 366, no. 6461 (October 4, 2019): 120–24. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw1313.
Thompson, Bill and Bird Watcher’s Digest. “Ten Bird Watching Hotspots in North Carolina.” Bird Watcher’s Digest, 2017. https://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/explore/regions/southeast/north-carolina/ten-bird-watching-hotspots-north-carolina.php.
Van Doren, B. M., Horton, K. G., Dokter, A. M., & Farnsworth, A. (2017). High-intensity light installation dramatically alters nocturnal bird migration. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(42), 11175–11180. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1708574114
Veltri, Carl J., and Daniel Klem. “Comparison of Fatal Bird Injuries from Collisions with Towers and Windows.” Journal of Field Ornithology 76, no. 2 (April 2005): 127–33. https://doi.org/10.1648/0273-8570-76.2.127.
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