It’s For the Birds

When you think of National Parks that support wildlife conservation, you may think of Yellowstone, Voyageurs, or Great Smoky Mountains. However, urban parks like Gateway Arch National Park can also have a big impact on wildlife conservation. That’s why the park is snuffing out the lights that illuminate the Arch this month. 

Wait, what?

Let us explain.  The Mississippi River, with its wide banks and flowing waters, cuts a path through the heart of our continent that is free from mountains or ridges. This provides a perfect path for over 300 species of migrating birds, known as the Mississippi Flyway. During the months of May and September, songbirds and waterfowl use the over 2,500-mile-long route to move between their summer breeding grounds in Canada and their wintering grounds in Mexico.  However, bright lights from buildings, including the Arch, can confuse these long-distance flyers, most of which migrate at night.

Gateway Arch National Park is doing its part to help the migrating birds by partnering with Lights Out Heartland to reduce light pollution. Throughout the month of May, the National Park Service will not illuminate the Gateway Arch at night.

“St. Louis sits right beneath the Mississippi Flyway, a major migration highway,” said Jeremy Sweat, Superintendent of Gateway Arch National Park. “For over a decade Gateway Arch’s exterior lights have been turned off for two weeks each May and September to help minimize the possible disorienting effect the lights may have on birds that migrate at night. As migration patterns have changed, this year the park will extend the lights off for the entire month of May.”

Least Tern chicks. Credit-NPS

Many of the species traveling along the flyway have been impacted by environmental disasters such as oil spills and habitat loss, meaning that they require more protection to ensure their species’ survival. The Audubon Society has identified several “priority birds” that frequent the Mississippi Flyway, such as Brown Pelican, Little Blue Heron, Least Tern, and Seaside Sparrow.

Brown Pelican. Credit-NPS

You can do your part to help migrating birds like these.  During migration season, turn off decorative lights outside your home between the hours of 11 PM and 6 AM and use window coverings to reduce the impact of interior lighting.  You can also ask owners of office buildings and apartment complexes to dim all unnecessary lights in May and September (and many are voluntarily doing that already). After all, it’s for the birds!