McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — All Texans — especially those on the state’s southern border and in the path of migrating birds — are being asked to dim their home and business lights at night from now through May to help feathered friends to navigate their travels.
It’s called the Lights Out for Wildlife campaign, sponsored by the Texas Conservation Alliance, and it urges all within the Lone Star State to reduce night light pollution to help migrating birds from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. for the next two months.
“We’re about to enter peak migration season, so it’s really important if we can all start taking action now and turning off night lights,” Ben Jones, executive director of the Texas Conservation Alliance, told Border Report on Friday.
April and May are the busiest spring migration months for birds heading north from Latin America where many spend their winters, he said.
Texans are asked to turn off non-essential lighting, and reduce indoor lights at night. Also close blinds and curtains to help prevent light from escaping homes and businesses. This will help birds to stay up in their 5,000-foot-high elevation flight path and not get off course or collide with buildings, Jones said.
About 70% of all migrating birds travel at night, and millions “are being funneled down through the Rio Grande Valley” on the South Texas border on their migratory routes, Jones said.
“The Rio Grande Valley is like a super highway for migrating birds so action by residents there is not only important for your area or the state of Texas but for the entire population of birds,” Jones said.
The City of Austin this week tweeted its support urging residents to comply and lower their lights at night.
“Help protect the nearly 2 billion migrating birds this spring by going Lights Out! Turn off all non-essential lights from 11pm – 6am every night through June 15,” city officials tweeted.
Environmentalists in South Texas tell Border Report they hope residents in the RGV take part in this important conservation campaign.
“Right here we have two of the three major flyways for migrating birds pass right through here. They come right down (or up) the Texas coast,” said Jim Chapman, vice president of the nonprofit Friends of the Wildlife Corridor.
David Newstead, who directs the Coastal Bird Program for the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program based in Corpus Christi, on Friday told Border Report that it’s so important to reduce night pollution because birds have so many barriers to contend with while migrating at night.
They rely on geomagnetic forces as well as the stars to navigate, and memory, he said.
But on cloudy nights the stars often aren’t visible and excess light pollution can further limit their ability to see them. Lights also can distract birds or cause them to go off course and add miles.
He says many species migrate through South Texas from the Arctic and northern Canada, and they travel thousands of miles to Central and South America.
To stay safe, many birds fly along the Texas Coast and skim the Gulf of Mexico as best as they can. But he says they put on excess weight and fat to sustain them during their flights and they have a limited supply of energy to get to their destination.
If they dally, or get lost or distracted, he said it could force them to land in areas where they can’t find edible food for their kind, or fall prey to predators and die. Or they could die by colliding into buildings or homes.
“The Rio Grande Valley is right on that north to south coastal corridor so a lot of birds are filtering through that area, entire populations of a lot of species,” Newstead said.
This includes small songbirds like the colorful painted bunting (part of the cardinal family), warblers and shore birds.
He said he hopes the ongoing campaign “will raise awareness” to the plight of migratory birds and how Texans can help them.
“Just living in this area, there are stewardship things that you can do to help these birds out and it’s as simple as turning your lights out,” he said.
He added preventing feral cats from being out also helps the bird population to thrive.
Participants in the Lights Out for Wildlife campaign can sign up to certify their home or business and will receive a free certificate, Jones said.