Lights out! Washington State residents urged to turn off artificial illumination as more than 11.5 MILLION migrating birds that use stars to find their way home will fill the night sky this week
- Millions of birds have left the Gulf of Mexico and are heading to Washington
- Tens of thousands of birds are expected on Friday and through the weekend
- However, scientists say at least 2.6 million will flood the sky on Monday
- The birds choose to make the journey at night to avoid predators
- This also means they are flying when artificial light illuminates the sky
- Light pollution can confuse the birds, leading them to collide with buildings
Washington State residents are urged to dim outdoor lights in preparation of more than 11.5 million migrating birds that will fill the night sky over the next few days.
Some 2,600 flew over Spokane Thursday evening and an estimated 12,700 flooded skies over Seattle as well, but the bulk is expected tonight through Monday.
More than 7,800 birds are projected to fly over Seattle Friday evening and 3,700 over Tacoma, a total of 2.7 million throughout the state and 2.6 million more are expected Monday.
The birds are coming from their winter breeding grounds in the Gulf of Mexico and choose to make the long journey at night to avoid predators and take advantage of cooler temperatures to elevate body heat.
However, predators may no longer be their biggest threat, as light pollution now kills up to 988 million birds each year.
The feathered creatures become confused by artificial light and instead of landing softly on green pastures, many collide with hard windows and buildings.
Scroll down for video
Washington State residents are urged to dim outdoor lights in preparation of more than 11.5 million migrating birds that will fill the night sky over the next few days. Seattle is on a high ‘Lights Out’ alert , which will see more than 7,800 birds fly over Friday night
Dr. Alejandro Rico-Guevara, the assistant professor of biology at the University of Washington and bird curator for the Burke Museum, told King5: ‘It’s amazing how these birds are traveling thousands of miles at night.’
‘And through that, they use different cues. One of them is starlight and moonlight, and different lights in the environment that have come alive in the past 100 years are really disorienting.’
The migration started earlier this week and most of the birds are in the last haul of the journey.
Nearly 70 percent of all North American birds are migrating at this time and 80 percent of them choose to fly at night.
The birds are coming from their winter breeding grounds in the Gulf of Mexico and choose to make the long journey at night to avoid predators and take advantage of cooler temperatures to elevate body heat. But light pollution confuses the birds
However, human-made light pollution hinders their ability to stay on course while soaring some 1,000 to 2,000 feet in the air, leading them to collide with windows and buildings.
Trina Bayard, the director of bird conservation for Audubon Washington, told The Spokesman-Review that light pollution kills between 365 million to 988 million birds each year.
Rico-Guevara said reducing light pollution is generally a good practice but is especially important during migration seasons – and even more so when forecasts show large numbers of birds transiting through metro areas, like this week.
‘Those huge buildings are the ones that attract most of the birds because they are the ones that reach highest in the sky,’ he said. ‘But as individual, we can definitely make a difference in just lowering the overall glare of the area.’
Nearly 70 percent of all North American birds are migrating at this time and 80 percent of them choose to fly at night. Pictured are thousands of migrating geese returning to Washington in previous years
New York City is one of the top brightest cities in the world and in 2015, officials began switching state buildings to ‘non-essential outdoor lighting’ at night to help the birds arrive at their destination safely.
The change activates at 11pm ET and runs until dawn during peak migrations during both the spring and fall.
Lights Out efforts are protecting birds in others east coast cities including Baltimore and Washington, and Midwest regions including Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco, according to Audubon.