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University of Delaware

Lights Out Newark

University taking part in nationwide movement to protect migrating birds

Each spring, millions of songbirds such as hummingbirds, bluebirds and orioles, migrate north from their winter homes. Many are lost on the journey because light pollution veers them off course. They stray away from natural habitats and ample food sources, and into urban centers where there is an increased chance of striking buildings.

During the last 50 years, North American bird populations have declined by 30%. Nationwide, cities such as Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and Atlanta are taking action to help. This year, the Newark Partnership and the University of Delaware are joining in by sponsoring the Lights Out Newark program. Each night through the end of May, the University will be dimming or shutting off as many lights as is feasible and safe on campus. (Safety-oriented lighting such as street lamps will remain on.) Newark business owners and residents will do the same.

“We want students when they are leaving a classroom or are in their dorms at night to either turn off lights or use a smaller lamp,” junior Kristie Arlotta said. “My hope is to really educate the student body on why it is important.”

Kristie Arlotta, a senior in the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment and the Honors College, is the Student Government Association’s Sustainability Senator working on the project in conjunction with the University’s Sustainability Council and the Newark Partnership. The contingent encourages faculty and staff to follow suit by switching off any unnecessary lights in their classrooms, offices and labs or close the blinds if lights must remain on.

Birds tend to migrate at night, explains Chris Williams, professor of wildlife ecology and co-chair of the Sustainability Council. They move under the cover of darkness, using the stars and the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate. “Unfortunately what we've discovered is that the ambient light of cities will tend to throw off bird migration as birds queue into the ambient light,” he said. This means birds then spend their days in more urban areas, that tend to harbor fewer insects, birds’ nutritional mainstay. Further, it increases the chance these birds will strike buildings and perish before finding their way back on their migratory path.

“Versus if they had just stayed on task and gone straight to the next woods, all of those resources would have been available to them and they could refuel in a productive environment,” Williams said.

The Newark Partnership has a list of frequently asked questions available for those who want to take part in the movement. The group expects to repeat the work in the fall when migratory birds make their way south again. 

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