Bird Collision Monitoring: How you can support research to protect our region’s birds

An incredible 600+ species of birds have been documented in Texas, and more than 400 species have been observed in Harris county. Many of these birds briefly stop by on their spring and fall migration, and a big part of that journey happens at night. About 80% of North America’s migratory birds migrate entirely at night, relying on the more stable nighttime weather conditions and light from the stars and moon to help navigate. What has always been an arduous journey has become even more complicated for birds with the addition of cityscapes and artificial light along these flyways.

Artificial light at night can attract and disorient migrating birds, drawing them into cities full of threats. This often results in exhaustion, interactions with outdoor cats, collisions with our brightly lit buildings, and other dangers that can lead to fatalities. A recent study by Horton et al. (2019) found that Houston was the second most dangerous city in North America for migrating birds, not only because of our propensity for bright lights, but also because our region has nearly 1 billion birds migrating through each year. This incredible number of birds is now experiencing an incredible amount of light – something that they haven’t evolved to understand.

Though attraction to and disorientation by light at night by birds is well-documented, we still don’t understand the whole story. That is where community scientists come in! Across North America, organizations are working to collect more data, and Houston Audubon is proud to be one of them as part of Lights Out Texas. We are coordinating collision monitoring in our city for the second year in a row, contributing to a statewide effort to better understand the mechanisms behind this threat to birds.

Community science volunteers spend roughly 2-3 hours each morning during spring and fall migration searching for birds that have collided with a building. Teams of 2-3 volunteers walk a 3-mile route around 10 downtown buildings, collecting data on birds they find. This data will be compiled with data from across the country to help scientists better understand the factors that contribute to nighttime collisions and how we can better prevent these collisions from happening in the future. All of the data collected in Houston will help inform the conservation of migratory birds in the future.

Do you want to become a community scientist?

We need your help to continue collecting this valuable data. Becoming a collision monitor is an easy way to take steps towards protecting the birds that rely on our city! Previous collision monitors stated that their favorite parts of monitoring include:

  • Contributing to important work that could help in the bigger picture
  • Making new friends
  • Finding birds that you can save
  • Getting an early morning workout in

You don’t need any previous bird knowledge to get started! All of our data is entered into iNaturalist, which will help with bird identification. We send all collected birds to Texas A&M for species confirmation and use in future scientific studies. The only pre-requisite is a mandatory 1-hour training video before the first monitoring shift. While we would love it if you could join us for multiple shifts, even once is immensely helpful!

Collision monitoring is happening now and continues daily through May 15. Contact Kathy Sweezey at ksweezey@houstonaudubon.org for more information.

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