This New Zealand village turns off its streetlights to save birds

This New Zealand village turns off its streetlights to save birds

Violet Field inPlanetDec 28, 2020 2 min read0 views

Fifteen LED street lights installed along a stretch of highway remain off in trial to prevent the death of young petrels

A Westland petrel. - ARDEA / MARY EVANS / SIPA

The authorities in charge of transport in Punakaiki ( New Zealand ) have decided to turn off part of the street lights at night to protect the birds. This village of a hundred inhabitants installed LED lights in 2019 that animal rights activists consider dangerous for young petrels in Westland. Fifteen lampposts spread over a section of the motorway of 3.4 kilometers are concerned.

The measure applied on a trial basis is the first of its kind in the country, says The Guardian. Each year in March, 6,000 Westland petrels from South America join a forest area stretching over 8 kilometers of coastline near Punakaiki. This is where these seabirds breed. Their arrival is even celebrated by a local festival.

The lighting disrupts their bearings

Shortly after birth, the chicks learn to fly and train before embarking on their migration to South America. During this period, many little ones are disturbed by public lighting which makes them lose their bearings. They confuse artificial lights with the reflection of the Moon in the water, which usually helps them orient themselves and spot the bioluminescent fish they eat.

The young petrels then land by mistake on the roads from which they cannot take off. Many of them are then run over by cars or killed by predators. Observers of these birds believe that LEDs have amplified the phenomenon.

A measure that seems effective

The partial extinction of the streetlights seems to have paid off as only 10 Westland petrels have crashed on the roads since January 2020, compared to 15 to 20 in previous years.

In contrast, the number of deaths in the species has increased in the nearby town of Greymouth. Local authorities, therefore, asked the owners of the places where these birds had crashed to turn off their exterior lights when possible.