We're all enjoying longer days and warmer weather. Everywhere you look, life is blooming, nesting, and on the move. Here in Northeast Florida, an abundance of life is moving high above us. Did you know we are the second-largest migration path for birds traveling the Atlantic flyway? That means millions of birds visit us each spring and fall.
Image: Duval Audubon website
Maybe you've spotted some of our recent visitors. Robins are an iconic symbol of spring, but Carolyn Antman, Conservation Director of the Duval Audubon Society, says to also keep an eye out for cedar waxwings, gray catbirds, and numerous species of warblers, like black and white warblers and yellow-rumped warblers. Some of our migratory ducks include northern shovelers and blue-winged teals. Maybe you've been lucky enough to share an ocean view with a red knot, one of our migratory shorebirds.
Most of us were taught birds fly south for the winter and north for the summer; that was all. While impressive, it was presented as a basic fact of life and nothing to worry about. But that's not the case.
Have you have heard of Lights Out? The Audubon Society launched the national Lights Out campaign in Chicago, Illinois, in 1999. The campaign was in response to millions of migratory birds dying every year due to artificial light radiating from U.S. cities.
I recently discovered Lights Out Northeast Florida (LONF) through Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and Miami University's Project Dragonfly Advanced Inquiry Program. Project Dragonfly is an online master's degree through Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Online classes offered through the University are combined with in-person field studies at leading zoological, botanical, and wildlife conservation institutions, including Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.
My spring semester included an internship with LONF, in which I learned many songbirds migrate at night, guided by starry skies. When residents and businesses leave lights on during the night, this artificial light can lure birds off-course. As the sun rises, birds find themselves facing the challenges of urban landscapes. Buildings with reflective glass are an unmistakable threat, along with efforts of finding food, a safe place to rest, and avoiding predators.
I wondered if I was the only one unaware of this issue. In speaking with family and friends, they too had no idea the dangers faced by millions of migratory birds. It turns out, most of us don't realize the success or failure of a bird's journey frequently depends on us.
Since 1999, at least 35 U.S. cities have joined the Lights Out campaign. Lights Out Northeast Florida, a partnership that includes Duval Audubon Society, St. Johns County Audubon, and Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, joined Lights Out in the fall of 2020.
My internship provided valuable insight into the hard work required for a new initiative to “take flight.” Sharing information with the community and collecting data is vital to LONF's success. The spring 2021 migration involves volunteers walking a designated route once a week, searching for dead or injured birds. The findings will show the impact artificial light has on bird species moving through our section of the flyway.
By sharing their research, LONF is hoping our city will rally together and make migratory paths safer. Here are a few suggestions from the LONF website:
Although spring migration wraps up in May, fall migration will be here before we know it between September and November. More information, including recommendations for building owners, can be found on the Duval Audubon website.
An overarching theme of Project Dragonfly is connecting students to their community. Now, I invite you to join your community. Records show birds have been migrating for 3,000 years. Sadly, our use of lighting in urban spaces has disrupted their path and made for a treacherous journey. So, what’s the good news? By following Lights Out's easy recommendations, we can return a starry sky to the birds.