Hundreds of Birds Killed by School's Artificial Lights

Migrating birds perished in collisions with a West Virginia building that had lights on at night.

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The Charlestown (W. Va.) Daily Mail reported that "hundreds" of yellow warblers and other migratory birds died this week when they flew into a lighted school building that sits on a hill in Hambleton, W. Va. It appears that the slaughter was an example of a phenomenon known as bird kill or tower kill, in which nocturnal birds that find their way by natural light become disoriented by artificial lighting and crash into illuminated structures.

The Daily Mail reported that Assistant Principal Mickel Bonnett arrived at Tucker County High School about 6:30 a.m. Monday and saw birds smacking into the side of the building. "Bonnett said he thought the birds were attracted to the lights inside the school as it was dark outside," the paper reported.

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources said that the birds were probably migrating south for the winter and became disoriented in fog. The Daily Mail reported: " 'Migratory songbirds migrate at night and use stars to navigate,' [agency spokesman Hoy] Murphy said. 'If stars are obscured by clouds or fog, they will orient to almost any elevated light source to attempt to navigate.' Heavy fog was blanketing the area early Monday, and it's likely that the illumination from the school lured birds in, he said."

Citing an ornithologist employed by the state agency, the paper added that "this type of problem isn't all that unusual in the fall season. He said similar incidents have occurred around cellphone towers, Snowshoe Mountain Resort, and other facilities."

Hat tip to Debra Norvil, Susan Harder (no relation), and Travis Longcore for bringing this unfortunate story to my attention. For more on the effects of light pollution, see my post Light Pollution: Burning Earth at Both Ends. I also wrote a magazine article in March about light pollution.