Living in a flight path can be a pain, what with all of the noise and wondering when a chunk of blue ice is going to come hurdling through the air and crash through your roof. But what if the flight path is one followed by birds rather than planes, and their passage is made more harrowing by manmade obstacles?
As it turns out, residents of St. Louis are quite familiar with the cyclical comings and goings of birds and their need for safe passage, which is why each year in May, they go out of their way to aid our feathered friends following the Mississippi River on their way to summer nesting grounds.
Gateway Arch National Park
Since its unveiling in 1965, St. Louis’s Gateway Arch has lit up the night sky to illuminate its most famous landmark. But for two weeks each May, officials turn off the exterior lights during the evening to facilitate the safe passage of more than 325 different bird species that follow the spring migration route running directly over their city.
This year, as migration patterns have changed, the park will extend the lights-off period for the entire month of May.
“St. Louis sits right beneath the Mississippi Flyway, a major migration highway,” explained Jeremy Sweat, Superintendent, of Gateway Arch National Park.
For more than 20 years, the exterior lights have been switched off for two weeks each May. They are turned off again in September for the same purpose — to help minimize the disorienting impact the arch’s lights may have on the migrating birds.
Lights Out Heartland
According to the St. Louis Audubon Society, 60 percent of North American songbirds and 40 percent of waterfowl will be taking part in the migrations over the spring and fall. Park workers want to ensure that the light doesn’t go up into the sky during the evenings to give the birds a better chance of arriving at their destinations unscathed.
Wildlife Migration Routes
Often referred to as The Gateway to the West, the arch was erected as a monument to commemorate early Western pioneers. The park is also tasked with preserving the Old Courthouse as the site of the Dred Scott case, where Scott sued for his freedom in the late 1840s and 1850s with mixed results. Today, the Gateway Arch attracts 1.62 million visitors annually.
On June 1, the exterior lights will be turned back on, and the monument will once again light up the night sky until September, when they will dim for a matter of weeks. The National Park Service began turning the Gateway Arch’s exterior lights off to protect migrating birds back in 2002.
And they aren’t the only ones coming to the aid of wildlife. Cities and states beneath other migration routes have been turning off the lights for birds in their areas in recent years, too, including Texas and Philadelphia.