Lights Off at St Louis's Gateway Arch to Help Migrating Birds

Providing safe passage through the Mississippi flyway


Lights Off at St Louis's Gateway Arch to Help Migrating Birds | Providing safe passage through the Mississippi flyway

The St Louis, Missouri skyline looks different this time of year. That’s because the exterior lights of St Louis's Gateway Arch go dark in May due to the spring bird migration system and has for several years.

The National Park Service(NPS) partners with Lights Out Heartland to provide safe passage through the Mississippi flyway during the two high intensity migration times during the year, according to a NPS press release.

“St. Louis sits right beneath the Mississippi Flyway, a major migration highway,” Jeremy Sweat, superintendent of Gateway Arch National Park said in the press release.

“For over a decade Gateway Arch’s exterior lights have been turned off for two weeks each May and September to help minimize the possible disorienting effect the lights may have on birds that migrate at night. As migration patterns have changed, this year the park will extend the lights off for the entire month of May.”

The lights out program began in 2002, reported KSDK. The lights will go back on June 1, 2023. after the majority of the North American songbirds and waterfowl have passed.

Light pollution and birds
Light pollution is continuing to increase and grows 2.2 percent a year, according to a news report from the United Nations. More than 80 percent of the world’s population currently lives under a lit sky but the figures are closer to 99 percent in Europe and the US.

Artificial light alters the natural patterns of light and dark and contributes to the death of millions of birds worldwide every year. That’s because light pollution can cause birds to change their traditional migration routes and results in the birds being disorientated and flying towards the city lights.

“Many nocturnally migrating birds such as ducks, geese, plovers, sandpipers, and songbirds are affected by light pollution causing disorientation and collisions with fatal consequences,” said Jacques Trouvilliez, executive secretary of the UN African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA).

Part of the solution to light pollution is for cities, like St Louis, to dim lights during migration phases in the spring and fall.

Other cities that go Dark Sky
Salt Lake City, Utah celebrates an annual Lights Out Salt Lake event that takes place during the spring bird migration. According to Utah State University, an estimated 3.5 billion birds cross the US/Mexican border as they migrate north to their breeding grounds. Many of these birds fly over Utah.

The bright lights of Salt lake City draw them into the urban environment where many collide with glass windows. An estimated 988 million birds in the US die from these type of crashes. The Salt Lake City chapter launched a  collision survey in 2017 that was conducted by a crew of volunteers.

The results of the  survey led to the turning off of the city’s lights during peak bird migration times and this has led to a safer flyover for the birds and more public awareness of the hazards of light pollution.

The Audubon has been promoting lights out programs in the US for 20 years, according to the organization. There are now more than 45 cities participating from across the country. One of the most successful programs is Lights Out Philly where bird collisions actually declined 70 percent at one site.

If you live in the path of bird migrations, encourage your municipality to go Dark Sky and help keep your feathered friends safe during their journey through the night.

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