By Mike Lynch
Pick a calm night in the second week in May, when there’s a south wind, and stick your head out a window.
“You’re gonna hear a bunch of high-pitched bird calls,” said avid Adirondack birder Brian McAllister.
That’s because large numbers of birds migrate north to the Adirondacks at night, navigating by the stars and other means. Nighttime is a good time to travel because the smaller birds can avoid predators and the weather is often calm.
Because so many birds navigate at night, the Audubon Society has pushed a Lights Out Initiative for years. In May 2022, New York state joined that program, vowing to turn out all non-essential outdoor lighting from 11 p.m. to dawn during peak migration season in the fall and spring. The effort ends statewide May 31.
Birds have already started arriving in the northern Adirondacks, but the peak is generally from mid to late May, with most birds arriving by the second week in June, McAllister said.
The initiative is important because studies have shown that birds are attracted to lights and can become disoriented by them. The phenomenon is known as fatal light attraction. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it has led to collisions with windows, walls, floodlights or the ground and the death of an estimated 500 million to one billion birds annually in the United States.
Bill Evans, an ornithologist with the nonprofit Old Bird, Inc., said that even a building such as a brightly lit convenience store in a dark rural area can attract birds and cause them to get disoriented.
“There can be huge numbers of birds,” he said. “That’s one thing I noticed.”
The Adirondacks is known for its dark skies and lack of lighting in many areas. However, light pollution maps show there is light pollution in some populated places, such as Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.
The Lake Placid region is also home to the Olympic facilities, which need to be well lit for competitions. Places like the Mount Van Hoevenberg bobsled track can be seen from a distance by drivers on Route 73 and other places when lit.
However, Olympic Regional Development Authority spokesperson Darcy Norfolk said its facilities with outdoor lighting mainly operate during the winter months, outside of the spring and fall migration periods. In addition, day use areas on the forest preserve, such as the ski resorts, Whiteface in Lake Placid and Gore in North Creek, don’t operate after 11 p.m. at any time of the year.
She said ORDA is participating in the Lights Out Initiative, and noted that its facilities not on the forest preserve have the ability to dim lights and use blinds.