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Traffic intensifies on migratory songbird flight path

Monday, April 13, 2020

Although Canadians are staying close to home these days, the migratory songbird flight path is experiencing a seasonal spurt of nighttime traffic. Advocates for bird-friendly lighting practices and building design are recommending some adjustments to the special lighting displays now popping up on the urban landscape to express solidarity and pay tribute to frontline workers responding to COVID-19.

“The birds we seek to protect play a significant role in helping us cope with the challenges of social distancing,” asserts Michael Mesure, executive director of FLAP Canada, an organization promoting simple steps for boosting the survival rate of birds in urban environments. “The more birds we see and hear in our neighbourhoods, the happier and calmer we find ourselves.”

Pointing to examples like Toronto’s CN Tower, which has been cloaked in special lighting effects for the past few weeks, a newly released statement from FLAP Canada applauds the sentiment behind the gesture but notes “we are compelled to remind everyone of the dangers that emitting bright light at night during migration periods can pose to migratory birds”.

In particular, bright, unwavering light in the white and red spectrum interferes with the moon and starlight cues that migratory birds instinctively use to guide their journeys. Instead, they may veer toward and continue to circle sources of bright light, risking fatal exhaustion or collisions with buildings.

Drawing on its expertise in lighting practices and design features that diminish the likelihood of birds becoming disoriented and fatally colliding with buildings, FLAP Canada suggests alternative light designs using intermittent light beams in the blue spectrum. “Blue light seems to attract fewer birds. In green light, birds are more disoriented than in blue light, but they are significantly more disoriented in red and white light (than either blue or green light),” Mesure explains.

Additional bird-friendly tips include, casting light downward, which will play less havoc with birds’ navigation systems than upward pointing beams that create sky glow. Limiting special light displays to the hours before midnight would also provide plenty of time for human observers to see and enjoy the message, while avoiding undue extra glare during the busiest flyover hours from midnight to dawn.

“We ask all building management, including the CN Tower, to find a balance between expressing appreciation for essential workers and protecting the lives of birds,” Mesure implores.

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