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Potential effect of low-rise, downcast artificial lights on nocturnally migrating land birds

July 8, 2021

Artificial light at night (ALAN) on tall or upward-pointed lighting installations affects the flight behavior of night-migrating birds. We hypothesized that common low-rise lights pointing downward also affect the movement of nocturnal migrants. We predicted that birds in flight will react close to low-rise lights, and be attracted and grounded near light sources, with a stronger effect on juveniles during their autumn migration. We conducted a controlled longitudinal experiment with light-emitting diode floodlights and considered nearby structures that turn on lights at night. We analyzed 1501 high-resolution 3D nocturnal flight paths of free-flying migrants and diurnally captured 758–2009 birds around experimental lights during spring and autumn 2016, and spring 2017. We identified change points along flight paths where birds turned horizontally or vertically, and we considered these indicative of reactions. Flight paths with and without reactions were generally closer to our experimental site in spring than in autumn when the lights were on. Reactions were up to 40% more likely to occur in autumn than in spring depending on the threshold magnitude of turning angle. Reactions in spring were up to ∼60% more likely to occur at ∼35 m from the lights than at >1.5 km. In autumn, some vertical reactions were ∼40% more likely to occur at ∼50 m from the lights than at >2.2 km. Interactions between distance to lights and visibility or cloud cover were consistent with known effects of ALAN on nocturnal migrants. Under poor visibility, reactions were up to 50% more likely to occur farthest from structures in spring, but up to 60% more likely to occur closest to lights in autumn. Thus, the effects of ALAN on night-migrating land birds are not limited to bright lights pointing upward or lights on tall structures in urban areas. Diurnal capture rates of birds were not different when lights were on or off for either season. To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that low-rise lights pointing downward affect night-migrating birds. Although the interpreted reactions constitute subtle modifications in the linearity of flight paths, we discuss future work that could verify whether the protection of nocturnal migrants with lights-out programs would have greater impact if implemented beyond urban areas and include management of low-rise lights.

Publication Year 2021
Title Potential effect of low-rise, downcast artificial lights on nocturnally migrating land birds
DOI 10.1093/icb/icab154
Authors Sergio A. Cabrera-Cruz, Ronald P. Larkin, Maren E. Gimpel, James G. Gruber, Theodore J. Zenzal, Jeffrey J. Buler
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Integrative and Comparative Biology
Index ID 70227450
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center