A Double-crested Cormorant perches in a tree at night, silhouetted by moonlit clouds.
A Double-crested Cormorant perches in a tree at night, silhouetted by moonlit clouds.
Bird-Friendly Communities

Lights Out

Save migratory birds by turning off outdoor lights.
Double-crested Cormorant. Photo: Attiana Cogswell/Audubon Photography Awards
Double-crested Cormorant. Photo: Attiana Cogswell/Audubon Photography Awards
Save migratory birds by turning off outdoor lights.

Every year in North America, more than 3.5 billion birds move north in the spring and 4 billion birds fly south in the fall. More than 80 percent of them travel at night, navigating with the night sky. However, as they pass over big cities on their way they can become disoriented by bright artificial lights and skyglow, often causing them to collide with buildings or windows.

While lights can throw birds off their migration paths, bird fatalities are more directly caused by the amount of energy the birds waste flying around and calling out in confusion. The exhaustion can then leave them vulnerable to other urban threats and deplete their energy needed for surviving migration and producing chicks in subsequent breeding seasons.

Light pollution affects dozens of species, including priority species—those we have identified as most in need of and most likely to benefit from our help— such as the Burrowing Owl, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Grasshopper Sparrow. Just one building can cause major problems for birds. For example, within one week in 2017, nearly 400 songbirds were caught in the floodlights of a 32-story Texas skyscraper and killed via window collisions.

Audubon’s Lights Out program is a national effort to reduce this problem. The strategy is simple: by convincing building owners and managers to turn off excess lighting during the months migrating birds are flying overhead, we help to provide them safe passage between their nesting and wintering grounds.

Here are ways you can contribute to the Lights Out solution:

  • Turn off exterior decorative lighting
  • Extinguish pot and flood-lights
  • Reduce atrium lighting wherever possible
  • Turn off interior lighting especially on higher stories
  • Substitute task and area lighting for workers staying late or pull window coverings
  • Use shielding and aiming so that no light is emitted upwards
  • Install automatic motion sensors and controls wherever possible
  • When converting to new lighting assess the quality and quantity of light needed, avoiding over-lighting with newer, brighter technology
Denver's 16th Street Mall lit at night.
Denver's 16th Street Mall. Photo: Geoff Livingston/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Turning off bright lights across the Front Range and Wasatch Front helps birds move on within minutes, as discovered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and New York City Audubon during the annual 9/11 memorial in New York City. Hundreds of birds are caught in the memorial’s beams every year but turning them off for just 20 to 30 minutes at a time greatly reduces the density of birds in the area.

Taking more steps to decrease the amount of light our buildings emit minimizes unnecessary bird deaths, prioritizes human safety, saves money by reducing energy consumption, and supports your or your organization’s sustainability goals. Moreover, taking these kinds of initiatives to protect birds can even earn you recognition for green, bird-friendly practices.

Learn about Lights Out ColoradoLights Out Denver, and Lights Out Salt Lake.

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Get Involved

Lights Out Colorado
Lights Out

Lights Out Colorado

Help birds migrate safely through Colorado.

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Lights Out Salt Lake
Lights Out

Lights Out Salt Lake

Help reduce light pollution around Great Salt Lake.

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CSU AeroEco Lab
Lights Out

CSU AeroEco Lab

See daily lights out alerts and bird migration forecasts.

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Articles and Resources

How to Make Your Outdoor Home Lighting Bird-Friendly
Lights Out

How to Make Your Outdoor Home Lighting Bird-Friendly

Learn about shielding lights and other ways to make your outdoor lighting more bird-friendly.

Turn Off Lights to Help Migratory Birds
Lights Out

Turn Off Lights to Help Migratory Birds

Learn how you can help in this article published in The Pagosa Springs SUN.

Welcome to the Dark Side: Your Guide to Nocturnal Migration Birding
Lights Out

Welcome to the Dark Side: Your Guide to Nocturnal Migration Birding

Here’s everything you need to join a growing DIY community where the action heats up when the sun goes down.

Simple Solutions to Prevent Collisions
Bird-Friendly Communities

Simple Solutions to Prevent Collisions

Making our communities and skies safer for birds

Governor Polis Proclaims April Lights Off for Bird Migration Month
Lights Out

Governor Polis Proclaims April Lights Off for Bird Migration Month

Colorado proclamation raises awareness for the threat light pollution poses to millions of birds.

It’s Time to Turn Off Lights to Save Birds
Lights Out

It’s Time to Turn Off Lights to Save Birds

Millions of birds are moving through Colorado, and they need dark skies.

Fall Migrations Begin!
Lights Out

Fall Migrations Begin!

Turn off your lights to give birds safe passage.

Turning Off Lights at Night Could Halve Bird Deaths On Chicago’s Lakeshore
Lights Out

Turning Off Lights at Night Could Halve Bird Deaths On Chicago’s Lakeshore

An analysis of more than 11,000 birds struck dead by a single building's windows shows turning lights off during migration makes a big difference.

Bird Migration & Your Yard
Habitat Hero

Bird Migration & Your Yard

From native plants to nest boxes, there are many ways you can help birds in your yard.

New Program Launches to Save Migrating Birds in Colorado
Lights Out

New Program Launches to Save Migrating Birds in Colorado

Lights Out Colorado aims to help Coloradans save millions of birds.

How you can help, right now