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Are more grebe/ground collisions inevitable?

Chris Merkord

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From the Birding Community E-bulletin, November 2013:

You may remember the story from December 2011 about the thousands of Eared Grebes that crash-landed on a snow-covered Wal-Mart parking lot, football fields, roads, and highway – all sites mistaken for bodies of water at nighttime – in southern Utah. It was all over the media, and we wrote about it in January 2012: http://refugeassociation.org/?p=4687#grebes

This year, in April, there was an even larger ground-collision – involving over 12,000 birds – in Utah. It occurred in spring, a spring that was unusual insofar as snow was still present at the time of northward grebe migration: www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56173903-78/birds-dugway-monday-ground.html.csp

The unfortunate thing is that when grebes land anywhere but in water, they can't re-launch themselves unless they are floating. This is why these nighttime reflected-light ground-collisions are particularly deadly to grebes.

Fortunately, it is now known that under certain circumstances – migration-time, weather/snow conditions, and specific light-reflections – the results are highly predictable. They are also unnecessary. 

We know rather precisely when the birds are migrating, and we can identify the weather conditions that are likely to get the migrants into trouble. 

By simply turning off lights after 11pm along their migration route – especially in fall, but also in spring - it may be possible to save thousands of birds from grounding themselves. Of course, accidents do happen… but they can also be reduced. 

This would be a variation of "Lights Out" efforts in various cities having tall lighted buildings or the "Dark Skies" efforts among astronomers/sky-watchers and others. It's certainly not too much to consider.

If such a grebe-crash happens again – and it could happen this month or next in Utah or elsewhere in the West – we shouldn't accept that it's just "inevitable."

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