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Environmentalists urge Indiana to turn off lights for migrating birds

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An environmental scientist on Wednesday said Indiana’s cities pose a serious threat to birds migrating south.

Austin Broadwater, who leads the Amos Butler Audubon Society‘s Lights Out Indy program, said migratory songbirds are key indicators of environmental quality. He said they follow whatever edible plants or insects are available, so shifts in migration patterns can help identify effects of climate change. Broadwater said those birds can’t get where they want to go if they can’t navigate.

Studies suggest light pollution contributes to the deaths of anywhere from 100 million to one billion birds each year in the United States. According to the Light Pollution Map, the night sky in downtown Indianapolis registers from class 8 to 9 on the Bortle scale, a measure of sky darkness that runs from one to 9. At that level, only the brightest stars are visible. For comparison, most parts of the Grand Canyon rate class one, dark enough that the Milky Way is not only visible but able to cast shadows.

Broadwater says migratory birds often fly at night and rely on stars to navigate. City light not only disorients them but also draws them in.

“Most of these birds are not urban birds, they’re not made to live along concrete and glass buildings,” Broadwater said, “so they get into these unfamiliar surroundings where there’s a bunch of glass reflecting either the sky or trees or other habitat.”

Broadwater said his organization and the Indianapolis Department of Natural Resources are once again asking owners of both residential and commercial buildings to turn off their lights at night, particularly from midnight to dawn. Broadwater stated that the Indianapolis Zoo, Indy Public Library and the owners of downtown Salesforce Tower already participate, as does the city government with the City-County Building. Broadwater said he would like Carmel, Fort Wayne and other Indiana cities to join in.

Besides turning off lights, Broadwater said building owners can apply treatments to windows to reduce reflection or install glass with tiny disruptive patterns in it. He said this reduces the chances a bird flies into a window and is killed or injured as a result. Chicago recently made such treatments mandatory as part of its building code, and Broadwater said he’d like to see Indianapolis do something similar.