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Want to help birds? Count the dead ones in Downtown Jacksonville

A flyer for Lights Out Northeast Florida
Duval Audubon Society
A flier for Lights Out Northeast Florida

Birds migrate up and down the eastern U.S. twice a year, in the fall and spring. Passing through cities like Jacksonville can be a deadly affair.

The national Lights Out initiative tries to make the endeavor safer, with Lights Out Northeast Florida launching in Jacksonville in 2019.

The local effort is a partnership between the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and the Audubon Societies of Duval and St. Johns counties. It has surveyed Downtown Jacksonville the past two years to find out where birds are dying during their migration and what buildings they are hitting. The goal is to get good data, then talk to building owners and managers about what they can do to help.

"Really all we're asking for is from 11 o'clock at night to 6 o'clock in the morning for eight to 10 weeks, each season... to get them to agree to turn (their lights) off," Mike Taylor, Jacksonville Zoo curator and local lead for Lights Out, said.

From March 15 to May 15 — spring — and Sep. 15 to Nov. 15— fall — birds travel in their peak migration. That means millions of birds, especially songbirds, cross through Jacksonville.

They're reliant on stars and the moon to guide them, which they can confuse with the lights of tall buildings. This can lead to disorientation and getting lost in cities, or worse, death by crashing straight into skyscrapers.

Those who get waylaid by building lights and are too tired to continue their night flight will sometimes land and rest until morning. Unfortunately, their troubles don't end there, according to Carol Bailey-White, president of the Duval Audubon Society.

"Birds cannot really distinguish between the sky and the reflection of the sky in a very clean window," she said. Come dawn, tall buildings with large glass paneling or reflective surfaces provide a deadly threat to birds who may smack into them thinking they're heading skyward.

"I think it's important not only to turn your lights off at night, but also to treat your windows," Bailey-White said. "This applies to private homes as well, it's easy enough... if you put something on your window to disrupt that reflection then that will save a lot of bird lives."

Taylor said home owners can also help by dimming security lights.

"Make sure they're shielded down if you want them on 24/7 or have them on motion sensors," he said. "Either way, if it's a motion sensor or is shielded down to where birds don't see it when they're flying overhead, every light out helps."

For the seasonal survey, volunteers pair up and trek through Downtown Jacksonville just before dawn once a week to count and collect stunned or dead birds that have run into buildings.

Last fall yielded nearly 200 dead or injured birds. This past spring turned up 37. The group expects a high number for the upcoming fall canvass, which coincides with the migration peak from Sep.15 to Nov. 15.

Interested in volunteering? Sign up here or on the Duval Audubon Society Facebook page to take part in a Sep. 10 training at the Jacksonville Zoo.

Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.