Migratory birds fly through Fort Worth twice a year during their journey, leaving some birds as victims to excessive light pollution. A new report will help researchers understand how the city’s efforts are mitigating bird deaths and injuries.

Between April 1 to May 31, 85 birds died after colliding with buildings in downtown Fort Worth, according to a new report on Lights Out Fort Worth from the Texas Conservation Alliance. Volunteers collected data this past spring examining how light pollution impacts birds and marked the first time organizers examined the program’s impact in the city.

The Texas Conservation Alliance volunteers found 124 birds in downtown Fort Worth during the survey period. Besides the deaths, the team found 19 stunned birds that hit windows and flew away and rescued 20.

The team used the BirdCast tool to monitor migration. If the website predicted large migration numbers in Fort Worth, then the team expected to see more dead or injured birds the following morning. They set out in the early hours before the city cleaners cleared the streets.

Lights Out Fort Worth Spring 2023 Report

Volunteers surveyed birds for 60 days.

Researchers at the Texas Conservation Alliance and Cornell Lab of Ornithology analyze the data. Researchers at the Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections physically process the bird samples from the Lights Out program. The data can be used by researchers from all over the country to perform disease ecology research, for example.

  • Surveys Completed: 60
  • Mortalities Collected: 85
  • Rescues Conducted: 20
  • Species Documented: 32
  • Volunteers Engaged: 10
  • Volunteer Hours Served: 227
  • Miles Surveyed: 220
  • Buildings Pledging Action: 13

Several factors go into deciphering the cause of death of a bird. Broken wings, necks, legs and eye injuries indicated blunt force trauma, said Lights Out Fort Worth coordinator Mariah Campos. 

Texas Conservation Alliance

Interested in volunteering in the Lights Out Fort Worth fall 2023 survey?
Visit tcatexas.org/lights-out-dfw or contact: 

  • Mariah Campos, Lights Out Fort Worth coordinator at mariah@tcatexas.org
  • Madison Gover, Lights Out Fort Worth assistant coordinator at madisongover@yahoo.com

Migratory birds travel at night and rest during the day. The surveys began at 6 a.m., right as this transition started. If a bird was found along the perimeter of a window or building and was still warm to the touch, the team could conclude they had just hit a building. If the bird was intact, predation was ruled out.

The data revealed residents are impacting wildlife, but organizers don’t want it to become a finger-pointing game. The data will give community members a deeper understanding of their role in birds’ migration, said Madison Gover, Lights Out Fort Worth assistant coordinator. 

“It’s nobody’s fault,” Gover said. “We want to build relationships with business owners and households. There is a way to present the data without vilifying anybody.”

Lights Out Fort Worth assistant coordinator Madison Gover holds up a rescued Swainson’s Thrush on May 29, 2023. The bird was released at Tandy Hills Natural Area in Fort Worth. (Courtesy photo | Madison Gover)

The Lights Out program urges businesses and residents to dim non-essential lighting during migration seasons. Since birds migrate at night, lights disorient them causing them to fly into buildings, Campos said. Fort Worth has participated in the Lights Out program since 2020 and became the first major Texas city to participate in both the spring and fall.

Unlike Dallas, Fort Worth had more success with buildings turning off lights, Gover, Lights Out Fort Worth assistant coordinator, said. 

The Dallas team saw 298 birds fly into buildings, with 253 deaths, 20 stunned and 25 rescued.

Campos is typically surrounded with reptiles at the Dallas Zoo so she didn’t know what to expect from the survey.

“Finding a dead bird on the ground affects you in ways I wasn’t expecting,” Campos said. It was a jarring and eye-opening experience for her.

Collecting and sometimes rescuing birds made the survey experience more personal for Gover. 

“It’s not something we know is happening until we go out and try to seek it,” Gover said. “Seeing a bird that’s died in your hands after hitting a window, once you have that physical connection, it makes you become more passionate and drawn to do something about it.” 

The survey results revealed other detrimental factors that could be attracting wildlife into the city other than light pollution, Campos said. Building material, weather patterns and surrounding vegetation can also impact birds, she said. 

Campos plans to conduct another survey in the fall.

Campos and Gover hope the survey sparks more conversations about ways businesses, households and conservation organizations can work together to help birds.

“Educating others on the issues birds face in urban environments is always rewarding, people love birds, but might not know they face these types of barriers,” Campos said. 

Editor’s note: The story was updated August 7, 2023, to include contact information for Lights Out Fort Worth fall survey volunteers.

Marcela Sanchez is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcela.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Marcela Sanchez is a 2023 summer reporting fellow. She’s a North Texas native pursuing a master's in journalism, media and globalization from Aarhus University in Denmark and Charles University in the...