World Migratory Bird Day illuminates the dark side of light pollution

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Governments, cities, businesses and communities around the world are taking action to address a major and growing threat to wildlife, including many species of migratory birds: light pollution.

The theme is the focus of World Migratory Bird Day, which is celebrated this Saturday, April 14, under the slogan “Dim the lights for birds at night”.

Light pollution is on the rise, with artificially lit outdoor areas increasing by 2.2% a year between 2012 and 2016, according to a study cited by the Secretariat of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals, an environmental treaty of the UN.

Currently, it is estimated that more than 80% of the world’s population lives under a “lit sky”and the figure is close to 99% in Europe and North America.

Alteration of natural patterns

“Natural darkness has conservation value in the same way as clean water, air and soil. A key objective of World Migratory Bird Day 2022 is to raise awareness of the problem of light pollution and its negative impacts on birds. migration,” said Amy Fraenkel, executive secretary of the aforementioned Convention.

Artificial light alters the natural patterns of light and dark in ecosystems, contributing to the deaths of millions of birds each year.as light pollution can cause birds to change their migration patterns, foraging behaviors and vocal communication, leading to disorientation and collisions.

disorientation and death

Migratory birds are attracted to artificial light at night – especially when there are few clouds, fog, rain or when flying low – which attracts them to the dangers of cities.

Birds become disoriented and, as a consequence, may end up circling in lighted areas. With their energy reserves depleted, they are at risk of exhaustion, or worse.

“Many birds that migrate at night, such as ducks, geese, plovers, sandpipers and songbirds, are affected by light pollution, which causes disorientation and collisions with fatal consequences,” explains Jacques Trouvilliez, executive secretary of the Waterbird Agreement. of Africa and Eurasia (AEWA), another UN treaty.

“Seabirds, such as petrels and shearwaters, are attracted to artificial lights on land and become prey for rats and cats.”

safer skies

Two years ago, the countries that are part of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals approved light pollution guidelines covering sea turtles, seabirds and migratory shorebirds.

The recommendations require that environmental impact assessments be carried out for projects that may lead to light pollution.

Projects must take into account the main sources of light pollution in a given location, wildlife species that are likely to be affected, and data on proximity to important habitats and migratory routes.

New guidelines focusing on migratory landbirds and bats are currently being developed and will be presented for approval at a Convention conference next year.

Solutions to light pollution are easy to find, Frankel said. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), more and more cities around the world are taking steps to dim the lights in buildings during the spring and fall migration phases.

call to action

World Migratory Bird Day is celebrated twice a year, on the second Saturday of May and October, in recognition of the cyclical nature of bird migration. and to the different periods of maximum migration in the northern and southern hemispheres.

It is organized by a collaborative partnership between the two UN wildlife treaties and the non-profit organization Environment for the Americas.

“World Migratory Bird Day is a call to action for the conservation of international migratory birds,” said Susan Bonfield, Environment Director for the Americas.

“As the journey of migratory birds crosses borders, inspiring and connecting people along the way, it is our goal to use both days in 2022 to raise awareness of the threat of light pollution and the importance of dark skies to bird migrations.

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