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Van Doren, B., Horton, K. G., Dokter, A. M., Klinck, H., Elbin, S. B., Farnsworth, A., et al. (2017). High-intensity urban light installation dramatically alters nocturnal bird migration. PNAS, 114(42), 11175–11180.
Abstract: Billions of nocturnally migrating birds move through increasingly photopolluted skies, relying on cues for navigation and orientation that artificial light at night (ALAN) can impair. However, no studies have quantified avian responses to powerful ground-based light sources in urban areas. We studied effects of ALAN on migrating birds by monitoring the beams of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum's â€œTribute in Lightâ€ in New York, quantifying behavioral responses with radar and acoustic sensors and modeling disorientation and attraction with simulations. This single light source induced significant behavioral alterations in birds, even in good visibility conditions, in this heavily photopolluted environment, and to altitudes up to 4 km. We estimate that the installation influenced ≈1.1 million birds during our study period of 7 d over 7 y. When the installation was illuminated, birds aggregated in high densities, decreased flight speeds, followed circular flight paths, and vocalized frequently. Simulations revealed a high probability of disorientation and subsequent attraction for nearby birds, and bird densities near the installation exceeded magnitudes 20 times greater than surrounding baseline densities during each yearâ€™s observations. However, behavioral disruptions disappeared when lights were extinguished, suggesting that selective removal of light during nights with substantial bird migration is a viable strategy for minimizing potentially fatal interactions among ALAN, structures, and birds. Our results also highlight the value of additional studies describing behavioral patterns of nocturnally migrating birds in powerful lights in urban areas as well as conservation implications for such lighting installations.