Nocturnal flight-calling behaviour predicts vulnerability to artificial light in migratory birds

Proc Biol Sci. 2019 Apr 10;286(1900):20190364. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2019.0364.


Understanding interactions between biota and the built environment is increasingly important as human modification of the landscape expands in extent and intensity. For migratory birds, collisions with lighted structures are a major cause of mortality, but the mechanisms behind these collisions are poorly understood. Using 40 years of collision records of passerine birds, we investigated the importance of species' behavioural ecologies in predicting rates of building collisions during nocturnal migration through Chicago, IL and Cleveland, OH, USA. We found that the use of nocturnal flight calls is an important predictor of collision risk in nocturnally migrating passerine birds. Species that produce flight calls during nocturnal migration tended to collide with buildings more than expected given their local abundance, whereas those that do not use such communication collided much less frequently. Our results suggest that a stronger attraction response to artificial light at night in species that produce flight calls may mediate these differences in collision rates. Nocturnal flight calls probably evolved to facilitate collective decision-making during navigation, but this same social behaviour may now exacerbate vulnerability to a widespread anthropogenic disturbance. Our results also suggest that social behaviour during migration may reflect poorly understood differences in navigational mechanisms across lineages of birds.

Keywords: artificial light at night; building collisions; collective migration; flight calls; nocturnal migration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration*
  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Chicago
  • Mortality*
  • Ohio
  • Vocalization, Animal*

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.8rr0498
  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4440227