City lights. Picture by Saad Chaudhry

Don’t let that light shine

By: Gabriel Rodríguez Rojas

Light can be so beneficial for us. It illuminates the streets at night, it helps us see better inside our homes, or even explore into the bottom of the ocean where it’s completely dark. But when it comes to light, like everything in life, an inappropriate or excessive use is considered detrimental to those around it. This is known as light pollution.

City lights. Picture by Saad Chaudhry
City lights. Picture by Saad Chaudhry

As an adverse effect of the industrial revolution, this type of pollution increases the overall energy use around the world, has a harmful effect on human health, and it disrupts the ecosystem and wildlife. The ecosystem’s wildlife will be the focus, specifically we will shine a light on the birds and their problems when it comes to this pollution.

Birds are much more than just pretty beings with flamboyant feathers and beautiful songs. As part of our natural ecosystem, they are responsible for a lot in their life cycle and some of their roles are not necessarily the most attractive to humans. Birds, themselves, are sometimes considered pests. From an agricultural perspective, they huddle up into the fruit trees and eat whatever is available to them. Sometimes they’ll even peck a fruit, leave it be, and drop it on the floor. It can be a negative force for the human working on the crop. But the birds are actually getting fed on their migratory ways and, in return, they would poop on the ground. Pooping is one of their other roles and they do it with such accuracy when they shoot for our windshields and shirts.

City bird migration. Picture by Artem Kniaz
City bird migration. Picture by Artem Kniaz

Their poop is beneficial and carries nutrients for the environment as they spread the seeds eaten from the fruit and fertilize the soil beneath them. Another role is pollination. Some of these critters would get all inside those beautiful flowers and pollinate as they eat the sweet nectar. Other kinds of birds eat insects. This can just be seen as them eating a meal, but this can also be considered and viewed as pest control. They eat little invertebrates and larvae, preventing the insects from thriving out of control in a certain environment. Seems very interesting how a “pest” can also be seen as a pest controller. At the current time, light pollution interacts with the bird’s ecosystem roles and not in a good way.

Light pollution interacts with bird species by disorienting migratory populations, which in turn make it hard for them to navigate. Cities, one of the many light pollution sources, both attract and repel the migratory bird populations. Attracting them can be pleasant for the human eye, and even a spectacle. But behind that lies the imminent truth that when the cities attract them, they are in danger because their temporary urban home does not possess the necessary food sources for the flock to survive. Another harming effect of this attraction is the fatal collisions with buildings. Light sources emit clarity to its surroundings, but also can be disorienting if looked directly towards it. It is suspected that the lights attract moths, a common source of food for birds. When the birds sweep in for their snack, a huge concrete building might be close to the moth swarm and cause a fatal collision for the poor confused bird. Another way of disorienting birds is when the event lights or regular street lamps are pointed upwards. Pointing these lights into the sky causes the birds to fly until dawn because they can’t seem to find a safe place to land with the distracting lights beneath them. Consequently, the birds are too weak and vulnerable when they actually land. Because of that, they become susceptible to other predatory species. But the good thing is that all of this pollution and harm towards birds because of our inadequate use of light has many solutions.

Bird’s eye view of the city. Picture by Vernon Raineil Cenzon
Bird’s eye view of the city. Picture by Vernon Raineil Cenzon

One of the most common solutions towards a lot of the human caused problems is planting more trees. It’s a remedy that helps to regulate the earth’s temperature, increase greenhouse gas absorption and oxygen production, create a biodiverse environment, and help with human’s connection with nature. For the actual bird’s benefit, this helps when it creates homes for them and their nesting efforts. Fruit trees provide appropriate meals for them as they’re passing by or simply living around there. Also, the production of flowers helps with birds that eat nectar and further pollinate their surroundings. Planting trees requires some initial effort by humans, but afterwards the trees grow by themselves and they do all the work to provide for the birds.  Another solution that requires just a little bit more effort from the same humans creating the problem, are lights out programs. These programs are focused on educating the community on the best practices towards reducing the overall pollution of the lights. Some practices are directed to day-to-day activities by humans. For example, turning off non-essential lighting at night during migratory bird season. Maintaining the indoor lighting from going outside the house with curtains or pointing them inwards. Other practices include buying appropriate light bulbs that emit low candelas of light, motion activated lighting, or exterior lighting directed towards the ground. The simplest of them all is consulting with your community leader or your local government to start creating these initiatives. After all, public service officials are elected to serve the public and their interests.

Lights off. Picture by mk. s
Lights off. Picture by mk. s

Light can be good in many ways for humans and their extensive uses. Nonetheless, the excessive use of light causes detrimental harm to the surroundings. From a bird’s conception, it disrupts their flight patterns, causes tiring flight paths, and may even cause their death from a blinding collision. In turn, these effects on birds do not allow them to provide the ecosystem with their beneficial roles of pollination, nutrient cycling, and pest control. Don’t worry, there are solutions to the problems created by human beings… Use bulbs that emit less light, keep the shining towards the inside of your house, or even don’t turn the lights on if they’re not in use. The best way to start helping is by taking action with your local government to implement some of these practices for the community.

Gabriel Rodriguez Rojas supports the company with an interdisciplinary role. Some of his key roles include the permaculture design, geographical analysis and visualization, drone aerial documentation, assisting in environmental studies, writing technical documents and articles, and translation support. He has a Master’s degree in GIS & Remote Sensing and has been working in the environmental Sector since 2014.

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