Towns occasionally receive complaints from residents about the brightness of their neighbor’s outdoor lights. This is often a legitimate concern, and one that most of us might not be thinking about when we install those lights. Please be considerate of how your lighting might be impacting your neighbors and pay attention to whether your lights could be in violation of your town’s ordinances.

In addition to being a considerate neighbor, there are other good reasons for limiting the brightness of your outdoor lighting, including the impact on wildlife and the impact that light pollution has on our ability to view the night sky. An article on the National Wildlife Federation’s website says that, “on clear, moonless nights, up to 5,000 stars should be visible from almost anywhere in North America. Yet most U.S. city dwellers are lucky if they can see any at all.” Most of our children have never seen the Milky Way.

Research is showing that our porch and security lights are major causes of insect decline. Many insects are drawn to light, but artificial lights can be fatal to them. According to one study cited by Smithsonian Magazine, “It’s estimated about one third of the bugs swirling around those lights die by morning, either by being gobbled up by predators or simply from exhaustion.” Dramatic declines in insect populations have raised alarm bells in recent years. And all species, including humans, that rely on insects for food or pollination are directly impacted by this insect decline.

Bright outdoor lights can also have a devastating impact on birds. Up to 1 billion birds die from building collisions each year in the United States , and according to several recent studies, bright lights in big cities are making the problem worse. Every year, billions of birds migrate north in the spring and south in the fall, the majority of them flying at night, navigating with the night sky. However, as migrating birds pass over big cities, they can become disoriented by bright artificial lights and skyglow, often causing them to collide with buildings or windows. The schedules of migratory birds are also based on seasonal cues. Artificial lights can cause them to migrate too early or too late and miss deadlines for nesting, foraging and other behaviors. And, according to the National Audubon Society, when lights throw birds off their migration timetables and paths, fatalities often occur when birds waste energy “flying around and calling out in confusion. The exhaustion can then leave them vulnerable to other urban threats.”

So, what can we do? One suggestion is to use motion-sensor security lights that only light up when an intruder enters your yard. Installing directional covers on lights so the light is aimed only to where it’s needed is another option. Lowering the wattage as much as possible and replacing the white bulbs in your lights with amber bulbs is also recommended; some research suggests that yellow-orange wavelengths are the least attractive to nocturnal insects. But the best piece of advice, according to the study cited earlier in Smithsonian Magazine, may be to “simply shut off lights at times and in places when they are not necessary.”

For more information on how artificial lighting impacts birds, and what you can do to mitigate that impact, please read about Audubon’s “Lights Out” initiative or see their short YouTube video.

Reducing the impact of artificial outdoor lighting is a significant goal of Bird Town Pennsylvania. By taking steps to do that, we are doing what residents of Bird Towns are asked to do. Making some changes to your own outdoor lighting will benefit our local wildlife. Your neighbors will be grateful, as well.


Tom Price, Bird Town PA Board Treasurer and Bird Town Leader of New Britain Borough

Drawing Courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority, Virginia

Feature Image: Insects at Night, attributed to CGPGrey, licensed under CC-by-2.0