By Devin Mingesbruney, Guest Columnist
Published October 10, 2023

Devin Mingesbruney, is a graduate student at Miami University studying conservation biology with a specific focus on birds. She is an avid birder and volunteer with Lights Out, Columbus.

While walking or driving at night in downtown Columbus, it’s hard not to miss all the bright lights illuminating the streets, parking lots, and high-rise buildings.

Spotlights beckon you into a new bar, and streetlights on every corner ensure you feel safe walking. As helpful as many of these lights can be, we do not need all of them.

Too much light in the cities leads to light pollution, obscuring the view of the moon and stars not only for us, but for our feathered friends as well.

During the spring and fall months, billions of birds migrate thousands of miles from as far as Central and South America, all the way to Canada and back again.

Record amount of bird deaths:Record amount of bird deaths in Chicago this week astonishes birding community

Of the hundreds of species of migrating birds in North America, the majority of them migrate at night. These birds have incredible navigational skills and use astronomical cues to guide their journeys. However, light pollution not only inhibits birds’ ability to use these cues, but the excess light draws them into the city where they collide with reflective windows on buildings.

Why should we care about a few birds hitting buildings?

Well, it’s not just a few birds. It is estimated that up to 1 billion birds in the U.S. per year are killed by building collisions alone.

One notorious building along the lakeshore in Chicago was killing upwards of 200 birds a day but when building owners turned off half of the lights, they noticed a 60% reduction in bird deaths. This same building made news just last week when nearly 1,000 birds were killed in one night after a major migratory movement.

I am sure many of us have had experiences with birds striking the glass at our homes and it can be startling. I believed that my home was safe for birds, but after installing a new feeder, a rose-breasted grosbeak struck my window.

Luckily, I was able to contain the bird and take it to the Ohio Wildlife Center where they rehabilitated and released it. Afterwards, I realized that not only was my bird feeder too close to my home, the trees reflected in the glass gave this bird the illusion of safety.

Birds are vital to our ecosystem.

They provide insect control as they gobble up the hungry caterpillars chewing through our juicy, summer tomatoes, and spread seeds, making forests healthy and diverse so we can enjoy the fresh air as we walk through our Columbus Metro Parks. Besides their ecological benefits, birds are just fun to watch, and birders young and old enjoy finding them.

LEFT: Migratory bird (Common yellowthroat) found after colliding with a window. RIGHT: Rose-breasted grosbeak at feeder prior to striking window. Photos by Devin Mingesbruney
Migratory bird (Prothonotary warbler) photographed at local Blacklick Woods Metro Park. Devin Mingesbruney

What can you do to help to protect migrating birds from collisions?

Start by turning out your lights at night, or at least for spring and fall months when the birds are migrating in large numbers. Not everyone is so keen to turn out all of the lights for safety and visibility reasons.

One way to navigate this is by using motion sense lighting, or shielded lighting, which directs light downwards and only illuminates what it needs to. Equally as important, you should make sure the glass in your home or business is bird-safe.

Aside from installing bird-safe glass, decals can be added to the outside of windows spaced no more 2 inches by 2 inches apart.

If you find an injured bird, call your local wildlife rehabber as birds often appear okay shortly after colliding with windows only to die later of sustained injuries; rehabbers help to increase their chances of survival.

Other things you can do to help birds include drinking bird-friendly coffee, planting native, keeping cats indoors, and volunteering for local organizations such as Lights Out Columbus.

Devin Mingesbruney, is a graduate student at Miami University studying conservation biology with a specific focus on birds. She is an avid birder and volunteer with Lights Out, Columbus, collecting birds that have collided with buildings in the downtown area. 

This article was originally published via the Columbus Dispatch:

1,000 birds were just killed in Chicago in one night. Could the same thing happen here?