Issue of the Week: Factors Impacting Migratory Birds


Migratory bird species have been protected by law in many countries to ensure their annual commute to their breeding grounds are not interrupted and populations are not reduced by commercial trade. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was established to protect these species by prohibiting the ability to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell many species of birds.  Despite this protection, some migratory bird populations are dying in masses from causes never anticipated before.

Many cities are in the migratory paths of bird populations and large skyscrapers are erected in a matter of months. This creates huge obstacles for birds that follow traditional paths. Reports of birds striking windows are increasing as they cannot distinguish a window from the window’s reflected view of the sky. New window designs are angling the glass to reflect the ground and not the sky, but these are still only prototypes and have not been proven to reduce bird strikes.

Artificial lights are also becoming a leading cause in bird mortality.  The night skies are being obscured by massive amounts of light pollution. Light attracts migrating birds and makes them fly in circles or misdirected them.  This confusion extends flight time and costs them energy and can cause exhaustion. Confused and exhausted birds are more vulnerable to predators. Buildings, light houses, and broadcast towers are all disrupting the usual flight patterns of these migratory species. Some cities are starting initiatives to decrease these occurrences by issuing city wide “Lights Out” programs where buildings keep lights off or dim during bird migration seasons.


Though city structures have a large impact, house cats are killing a mind boggling number of birds every year.  The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute reported in January 2014 that cats kill between 1.3 and 4 billion birds annually and are replacing humans as the leading threat to birds. Feral cat populations, an army of specialized bird killers, continue to grow. This is why many wildlife and ornithology organizations want the cat populations controlled, but initiatives are experiencing major intervention from animal rights activists.

These compounding threats are leaving the conservation community fearful for the future of migratory bird populations. To ensure the survival of our nation’s many migratory bird species it is up to all of us to educate ourselves on the problem and develop practical solutions. Lights Out campaigns are one of many solutions that will hopefully make humans rethink our existing approaches to everyday life and how we change our environment. Many resources are available  in each state on this issue; we encourage those concerned to research what their community can do to help.

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Twice a week, SCI Foundation informs readers about conservation initiatives happening worldwide and updates them on SCI Foundation’s news, projects and events. Tuesdays are dedicated to an Issue of the Week and Thursday’s Weekly Updates will provide an inside look into research and our other science-based conservation efforts. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more SCI Foundation news. 

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