Light pollution and bird collisions

World Migratory Bird Day was on 14 May this year and the theme was light pollution.  To mark the event, I authored an article for The Paulson Institute on the dangers of light pollution to migratory birds and it seems appropriate to publish it here on World Biodiversity Day. 

There is now strong evidence that lighting attracts and disorientates migratory birds at night, causing many to seek shelter in our towns and cities.  This exposes them to multiple threats, including collisions with glass.  

The scale of deaths caused by collisions with glass is staggering.  It is estimated that up to a billion migratory birds die each year in North America due to collisions with buildings.  Although there are very few data from China, given many of its major cities are located close to the east coast, slap bang in the middle of one of the world’s busiest migratory expressways – the East Asian-Australasian Flyway – it is likely that the scale of the issue is similar here.

The good news is that this is one of the most avoidable sources of biodiversity loss.  There are solutions from minimising light pollution at night, especially during peaks of migration, to using bird-safe glass in new buildings and retrofitting to existing buildings.  There is much good practice emerging in North America, from ‘lights out’ programmes in many cities to legislation recently passed in New York to mandate the use of bird-safe glass in all new buildings and major renovations of old buildings.

Given China currently holds the presidency of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and is due to guide more than 190 countries to a new Global Biodiversity Framework, what better time for China’s cities to begin to address this issue.

I hope you enjoy the article and whether you live in a city on a flyway or experience bird collisions in your home, there is always something that you can do to help.  Here are some great resources to help you get started:

American Bird Conservancy


Title image: Birds killed by collisions with glass at the World Trade Center Building in New York on September 14, 2021. The total count was 298 (269 dead and 29 injured taken to a wildlife rehabilitation centre). Photo by Melissa Breyer.

2 thoughts on “Light pollution and bird collisions”

  1. Excellent article Terry. It coincides with efforts several of us are starting to create a brain trust around this issue of light pollution. It is important to have some goals for the big meeting China is hosting in a few months, which I’m sure you are involved in— I certainly hope so with your insight and expertise. I’ll keep you posted.
    All best, Jane

    1. Thank you, Jane. Please do keep me posted! Yes, I am involved in the UN biodiversity conference (in a small way). Hoping for a strong agreement and then the really hard work begins to implement it..! Keep in touch, Terry

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