Turn Unneeded Lights Off at Night

Most of us probably don’t realize just how busy the nightlife can be from an animal’s perspective. Just because the sun goes down and people tend to migrate inside our well-lit homes, doesn’t mean that wildlife and pollinators do the same thing. Some species will curl up inside their homes to sleep, but many others are just waking up to begin their “day.” The nightlife for wildlife and pollinators can be just as active as during the daytime, but with a different cast of characters.

Light pollution is visible even from space. This image is from 2016 and some sources estimate that light pollution is increasing at a rate of up to 2% / year. Many people already can’t see the Milky Way from their backyards. Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Many types of birds that are typically active during the day will migrate at night. Nocturnal predators such as coyotes, foxes, and owls hunt during the night. Small mammals are out trying to find food and mates without getting eaten by a predator. Nocturnal insects are out doing their thing, which sometimes includes pollinating night blooming plants. And all of these activities take place in both rural and urban areas.

However, by lighting up the night, we disrupt the activities of wildlife and pollinators that are active at night. The movements of predators and prey are changed. Birds and insects that navigate by the moon and stars are drawn instead to bright street lights, porch lights, or city buildings because the moon is no longer the brightest object in the night sky. Not to mention, night lights can also disrupt the circadian rhythms of diurnal animals.

One easy way to help minimize our impacts on nocturnal wildlife is to turn lights off that we aren’t using. Motion detectors and timers can help ensure that the light is there when we need it. Even just pulling our curtains at night can help keep light inside the house instead of spilling out into the yard.

Another easy thing to do is to change outside light bulbs to ones that produce a warm white light rather than a bright white or cool white light. Warm white lights have a reddish or yellowish tint to them, while bright white or cool white lights have a bluish tint. Blue light travels further and has been shown to be more disruptive to wildlife and pollinators than warmer lights. (Issues related to blue lights disrupting our circadian rhythms is why we are told we shouldn’t use mobile devices right before bed.)

Also make sure that any lights you have outside point down and are what is called “fully shielded.” Pointing lights down puts the light where you need it – on the ground, not in the sky. Fully shielded light fixtures simply direct the light down and block light that would otherwise go up into the sky. Think of it as a lampshade for your outside light. Although turning lights off and changing light bulbs or light fixtures may not be the first things you think of for attracting wildlife or pollinators, it can actually make an important difference.

This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.

Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.

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