Spring migration is in full swing in New Mexico. Thousands upon thousands of birds migrate through our state each spring and fall. In our area, migrating birds follow the Central Flyway, using the Rio Grande and the Rocky Mountains to guide their north and south travels. Many birds migrate at night, some species using the stars to navigate by.

A Wilson’s Warbler visited our yard last fall as it migrated from its breeding grounds in the Pacific Northwest and Canada to its winter grounds in southern Mexico and Central America.

Unfortunately, lights distract and disorient night-flying birds. There are too many stories of migrating flocks slamming into well-lit buildings, many of the birds succumbing to their injuries. We can help migrating birds safely pass through our area by reducing our own lighting.

The lights of Santa Fe and nearby communities reflect off low clouds, lighting up the sky for miles around.

While change is difficult, it’s not impossible. Below is a link to a story published on cnn.com this week, describing efforts by people in downtown Philadelphia to reduce the danger to migrating birds in their area. It’s worth a moment to read.


A photo in today’s Philadelphia Enquirer shows a few of the estimated 1,500 birds that flew into a well-lit skyscraper.

We don’t have any tall buildings in the Santa Fe area (there are three five-story hotels and two four-story hotels), but we have plenty of disorienting lights to confuse migrators.

Our beautiful, unshielded holiday lights go on right after Thanksgiving, while fall migration is still in progress. Turning off lights earlier in the evening can help night migrators safely pass through our area.

While our buildings are low, our town is sandwiched between the Rio Grande to the west and the base of the Rocky Mountains immediately east, so our lights can still disorient migrating birds who can crash into natural obstacles.

The lights of the Santa Fe area create a light dome (left of center) that can disorient birds migrating at night. The Rio Grande is in the distance at the far left; the Rocky Mountains can be seen on the right.

Keeping unnecessary lights off or turning them off early can help our feathered friends safely migrate. By working together, we can reduce our cumulative light footprint and provide a measure of safety to the thousands of migrating birds that pass overhead and visit our yards.