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Ann Arbor asks owners of tall buildings to turn off lights to help migrating birds

State of Michigan declares Safe Passage Great Lakes days to save birds

Birds fly at night.
Birds fly at night. (Pixabay)

ANN ARBOR – During the spring and fall migrations, more than 250 birds migrate at night over Michigan.

Most of the birds rely on the stars and moon to guide their path, but well-lit urban areas present a danger as they navigate in darkness.

Brightly-lit tall buildings disorient the birds and some will circle these buildings until their either die from colliding with the structure or from exhaustion. According to scientists, hundreds of millions of birds die annually as a result of these encounters with tall buildings.

Birds commonly hit windows both at day and during the night because they cannot see glass. Windows only show them reflections of the sky, which disorients them.

What can be done?

Turning off lights or drawing the blinds on the fifth floor and above can help prevent bird deaths during peak migration seasons from March 15 to May 31 and August 15 to October 31. As a results of efforts by the Michigan Audubon Society, in partnership with Detroit Audubon Society and other local groups, the state of Michigan has declared these migration periods Safe Passage Great Lakes Days.

Property owners of tall buildings as well as residents or office workers are encouraged to turn off their lights or close their shades after 11 p.m. during Safe Passages Great Lakes Days.

Those who work in tall buildings at night are also encouraged to use desk lamps or other dim lights to minimize perimeter lighting at night.

Officials say that turning off lights during the night can also conserve energy, save money and reduce pollution.

In March 2009, Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution to support the efforts to save the birds. That resolution can be viewed here.

If you find a bird that is dead or injured from a window collision, you should contact the Bird Center of Washtenaw County at 734-761-9640. Their experts will direct you on how to handle the situation, since some birds with sharp bills might appear to be dead and could be dangerous if handled inappropriately.

Here are steps from the city of Ann Arbor if you find an injured bird that can safely be picked up:

  • Place a flat folded paper towel in the bottom of a non-waxed paper sack or box. A paper grocery or sandwich bag is ideal, or a box with small holes in it. Most birds will do well in a smaller sack, but larger birds such as catbirds, rails, woodcocks, thrashers and woodpeckers, should go into a paper grocery sized bag or box.  If you find an injured raptor or heron-type bird, call the Howell Nature Center at (517) 548-5530 for instructions on how to handle it.
  • Gently pick up the bird and put it into the bottom of the bag or box. Try to keep the bird upright. Fold down the top of the bag and clip it, and/or close the box so that the bird cannot jump or fly out.
  • Put the bag or box in a dark, quiet and protected location (preferably indoors).  Do not open the bag to check on the bird, this is dangerous the bird may try to escape and cause further injury. If the bird is active, please put another towel or blanket over the box or bag. Light makes them active.
  • Please call the Bird Center of Washtenaw County at (734) 761-9640 for instructions on transporting the bird to their clinic. If necessary,  leave the time, your name, a number where you can be reached, and your location. If you cannot rescue the bird, leave the above information and the location and condition of the bird.
  • Do not give the bird food or water as this can be very dangerous for a stunned bird. It can even kill the bird.

For more information about the Washtenaw Safe Passage Program, visit the organization’s Facebook page.


About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.