Turning ‘Lights Out’ Across Texas Helps Birds Migrate Safely

AUSTIN — Spring is the peak time for bird migration through Texas, but the bright lights of cities and towns can confuse birds as they fly to their northern breeding grounds. Texans are encouraged to help our winged friends on their journey by turning “Lights Out” at night across the state from April 22 through May 12.

In 2017, after discovering the bodies of more than 400 birds that had slammed into a skyscraper, the American National Insurance Company and Houston Audubon launched the original Lights Out initiative. A nationwide program, sponsored by BirdCast, began around the same time. Both groups sought to reduce bird mortalities associated with light pollution, which attracts and disorients birds, causing collisions and deaths.

Two decades of research from Chicago, the country’s deadliest city for migrating birds (followed closely by Houston and Dallas), show that darkening the windows produced 11 times fewer bird collisions during the spring migration and 6 times fewer collisions during the fall migration. These results are significant because one of every three birds migrating through the United States in the spring or fall — nearly 2 billion in total — pass through Texas.

How can Texans help?

  • Turn off all nonessential lights from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. each night during the program.
  • Don’t use landscape lighting to illuminate trees or gardens where birds may be resting.
  • For essential lights (security and safety lighting), use the following dark skies-friendly lighting practices:
    • Aim lights downward.
    • Use lighting shields to direct light downward and avoid light shining into the sky or trees.
    • Use motion detectors and sensors so lights only come on when you need them.
    • Close blinds at night to reduce the amount of light from windows.
    • You can find examples of dark skies-friendly lighting from the International Dark Sky Association and additional guidance and language from the McDonald Observatory’s dark skies resources and recommended lighting practices.
  • If you own or manage a building:
    • Consider adjusting custodial schedules to end by 11 p.m.
    • Ask custodial staff to ensure that lights are off after they finish their work.

You can also find out more information about bird-friendly window decal designs that reduce collisions.