By Darcy Thomas

Spring migration is not far off. You can help birds on their journey by turning out the lights. Audubon’s Lights Out program is a nationwide effort to convince cities to turn their lights out for migrating birds, providing them safe passage between their wintering and nesting grounds.  

Every year, as billions of birds migrate north in the spring and south in the fall, the majority of them use the night sky to navigate. They can become disoriented by bright city lights and skyglow. Many birds collide with buildings as a result. Others expend huge amounts of energy flying around and calling out in confusion, leading to exhaustion that renders them vulnerable to other urban threats. 

Although Montana is not as bright as many other places around the world, our city lights contribute to the disorientation of migrating birds. David Cronenwett, a Montana naturalist and nature writer, once witnessed thousands of snow geese heading south from their stopover at Freezout Lake become disoriented by a combination of low cloud cover and sky glow from Helena. They circled the city lights for hours as they called and squawked in confusion. Some of them likely perished on their long journey because of the incident. 

The Flathead, being in the Pacific Flyway, saw about seven million birds fly over during spring migration last year. You may keep track of how many birds are going over us on any given night by visiting the BirdCast dashboard at The Flathead Valley is one of the brightest areas in Montana as seen by the map above which can be found at

Audubon’s Lights Out program encourages building owners, managers, and residents to turn off unnecessary lights during the months that birds migrate. Here is what you can do:

  • Turn off exterior decorative lighting
  • Extinguish pot and flood-lights
  • Reduce atrium lighting wherever possible
  • Turn off interior lighting especially on higher stories
  • Substitute task and area lighting for workers staying late or pull window coverings
  • Down-shield exterior lighting to eliminate horizontal glare and all light directed upward
  • Install automatic motion sensors and controls wherever possible
  • When converting to new lighting assess quality and quantity of light needed, avoiding over-lighting with newer, brighter technology

By doing this we can minimize unnecessary bird deaths while saving money by reducing energy usage. Please be a part of the solution.