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A songbird migration is underway. With this small step, you can help keep them safe

The Cincinnati skyline shines brightly on the morning of August 1, 2022.
Bill Rinehart
The Cincinnati skyline shines brightly on the morning of August 1, 2022.

While most people are asleep, tens of thousands of songbirds are flying south for the winter. The annual migration is peaking this week in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, and in some cases, it's hampered by city lights.

The Cincinnati Nature Center's Cory Christopher says the birds are navigating by the Earth's magnetic field, and blue light disrupts that.

“You’ve heard what blue light can do to people — it can keep you up at night, it gives you energy. It does similar things to birds,” he says. “But importantly when birds sense that blue light, they’re not able to process information to see the magnetic field anymore.”

Christopher says that can lead to birds crashing into windows, or just flying around lights until they're too tired to continue.

“They can actually become what’s called ‘trapped,’ “ he says. “They become so disoriented it’s like trying to find your way out of a hall of mirrors in a funhouse.”

He says the solution is simple: turn off unnecessary lights at night.

“We typically ask people to keep all of your unnecessary lights off all the way through November, usually between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. And then also again in the spring. About March 15 through May, because at that point they’re going to be coming back north.”

Christopher says songbirds fill an important ecological niche, eating pests and helping distribute seeds.

“Without them we would see an increase in those pesky insects that none of us like: the mosquitoes,” he says. “But also think about the fruit trees… their reproduction would be interfered with if birds weren’t eating their fruit and dispersing the seeds. We should care because even through they’re pretty for us to look at, and we like feeding them food, they’re doing us some pretty big favors out there in the natural world.”

Christopher says in 2017, the Cincinnati Nature Center, the Cincinnati Zoo, and the Cincinnati Museum Center teamed up to study the local night sky. He says much of the focus was on Downtown and included an effort to encourage turning lights off.

Another aspect involved recording Downtown bird strikes. Christopher says the good news is Cincinnati doesn’t appear to be as dangerous to birds as other cities, like Columbus and Chicago. He says they’re not sure why.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.