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!


How much do you know about the skies above us?  Well here’s a fun way to learn.  All would-be stargazers should mark their calendars for the return of the summer and fall Gateway to the Stars series at Gateway Arch National Park.  Visitors of all ages can join in the fun.

Credit: NPS

Each month from now through October, the National Park Service and the St. Louis Astronomical Society will offer public astronomy programs and telescope viewing at the Gateway Arch.  Each evening event will begin with a ranger talk and discussion inside the park’s Visitor Center at 6:45 p.m. followed by telescope viewings of the night sky just outside the Arch entrance beginning at 8:00 p.m., weather permitting.  Volunteers from the Astronomical Society will have multiple telescopes available for participants to use and will help interpret what people can see through the eyepiece.

Credit: NPS

The theme of each evening will differ.  No reservation is required except for the children’s program on July 10, which requires advance registration:

  • Sunday, June 12: Stories in the Stars The discussion will focus on the sky as a cultural resource and will include constellation stories from many cultures. Visitors will also be invited to share their sky stories.
  • Sunday, July 10: Kids Explorer Night Children ages 5-12 can earn their Junior Ranger Night Explorer patches as they build and take home their own Galileoscopes.  These are small refractor telescopes that allow viewers to see the same objects as famed astronomer Galileo Galilei such as craters of the moon and four moons of Jupiter. Space is limited.  Go to Gateway to the Stars: Kids Explorer Night for information on how to sign up.
Credit: NPS
  • Sunday, August 14: The New James Webb Space Telescope Learn about the newest space telescope, its “first light,” and early discoveries it has already made.
  • Saturday, September 3:  Lights Out Heartland  Speakers from Dark Sky Missouri will discuss the impact of light pollution on wildlife and the environment.
  • Saturday, October 8:   Theme to be determined.