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Volunteers Needed To Collect Data On Downtown Bird Strikes

Galveston bird strikes.jpg
Bruce LePard | National Audubon Society
A bird strike survey determined that this Galveston building's normal evening illumination (left) posed a danger to migrating birds. Owners agreed to adjust their lighting (right).

The Bexar Audubon Society needs volunteers to identify lighted downtown buildings that may be related to fatal bird strikes at night. The activity is part of its "Lights Out Texas" project.

Volunteers will fan out across the downtown area from Monday, April 19, through Friday, May 7, to collect data on the varieties and locations of dead and injured birds. Those dates fall within the peak of spring bird migration.

Patsy Inglet, the society's president, said the data will be entered into an application called iNaturalist.

"That will give us the database," she explained, "and we'll know by the end of our survey period how many casualties we found, were they fatalities or were they injured, and where in the city are the areas which are most likely to produce these bird fatalities."

Inglet said one third of all birds that migrate in the spring through the U.S. each year pass through Texas, an estimated 1 billion birds in total. She said most of the birds fly at night, and lighted commercial buildings can throw them off their path.

"The light emanating from our cities at night can disorient the birds. It can leave them confused and vulnerable to collisions with buildings and threats on the ground," she said.

Bird strike surveyors.jpg
Courtesy Lora Reynolds
Courtesy Lora Reynolds
Volunteer bird strike surveyors in San Antonio.

She said birds use the moon and stars and the setting sun to navigate their way. Inglet said the bright lights of urban areas can confuse birds and pull them down out of the migratory route and into the city.

She said once troublesome lighted buildings are identified, society members will ask the managers and owners to dim their lights between the hours of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. during peak migration periods in the spring and fall.

Inglet said San Antonio was recently certified as a Bird City Texas. Part of that designation involves collecting data about bird casualties due to collisions with lighted buildings.

The society is working on the initiative with Texan by Nature, founded by former First Lady Laura Bush, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Inglet explained that all dead birds found by volunteers will go to a bird collection at Texas A&M, which has provided the society with the necessary permit to collect data. Injured birds will go to Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, Inc., in San Antonio.

Ten volunteers are needed to walk five routes each day from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. during the data collection period. She said volunteers will be paired up for the routes. She also suggested volunteers could volunteer a friend to bring with them.

Light pollution.jpg
Light pollution across the United States

Inglet said the ability to identify birds is not required, but a smartphone and experience using iNaturalist is preferred. She said volunteers can train online for the initiative.

Volunteers will meet each morning in a downtown parking garage where free parking will be provided.

To volunteer, visit the society's website at bexaraudubon.org.

She said the U.S. and Texas initiatives were inspired by a project begun in 1993 in Ontario, Canada, named Fatal Light Awareness Program, or FLAP. Houston and Dallas were the first major Texas cities that became part of the initiative. Now San Antonio, Austin, and El Paso are joining.

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Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian