League City and others around Texas are asking people to turn off non-essential lights at night to help birds migrate safely.
LEAGUE CITY, Texas — Amid the hustle and bustle, you might not realize that League City is buzzing with wildlife.
According to city spokesperson Sarah Osborne, the city isn’t just stopping to smell flowers, they’re aiming a little higher.
“We started on our birding efforts a couple of years ago, thinking tourists. And then, of course, we wanted to include residents as well,” Osborne said.
Now is the perfect time because, she said, “Every year, millions of birds migrate through Texas and they come right through League City.”
But this year, in addition to the birding swag residents get for doing League City’s Spring Migration Challenge, the city is taking part in a statewide campaign called “Lights Out Texas” – urging businesses and residents to turn off non-essential lights.
“We issued the proclamation and they … found out, ‘oh, wow, I can do these simple things and it actually helps the birds when they’re migrating,’” Osborne said.
“We’re seeing communities all across the state join in on this effort,” says Anna Vallery.
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Vallery is a Conservation Specialist with the Houston Audubon which partnered with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to start the campaign in Texas a few years ago.
“You would think that by lighting up a building it would show birds migrating at night, ‘Hey, here’s a building. Don’t run into this. But instead, because birds have evolved to migrate at night, it’s like 70% of birds migrate at night. They’ve evolved to navigate via starlight and all of these kinds of natural cues and our artificial light can really disrupt that. We don’t know the exact mechanisms for how this all works, but we do know that birds for some reason are attracted to artificial light at night and then once they’re attracted to this light – like the city of Houston is this bright sky orb, this glow of light – these birds are attracted to it and then once they’re in this light get really disoriented.”
The incident that served as the impetus for “Lights Out” happened in 2017. About 400 birds collided into a Galveston building and died.
“Turning lights out at night is just removing another straw off the camel’s back in trying to limit the impact we’re having on migratory birds,” Vallery said.
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And the Greater Houston area – it turns out – lies among several of the nation’s most frequented “flyways” used by birds migrating.
“Shorebirds … another would be raptors – that’s like hawks, kites and falcons … and then we have what we call our songbirds,” Glenn Olsen said.
Olsen is a Rice University instructor and naturalist.
He says the birds are coming from Mexico, Central America and South America.
“Headed into Texas, Louisiana, eastern United States, western United States – all the way up to Canada to breed,” he said.
These campaigns are an encouraging sign.
“That sense of awareness and that sense of being responsible and that sense of having a conscience about it,” Olsen said.
That sometimes it’s a good thing – when something is for the birds.
“We need to do all that we can now,” Olsen said.
Bird migration is happening now, with peak migration expected to occur this week. For more information, click here.