Holiday lighting may not be so cheerful for wildlife

Holiday lighting may not be so cheerful for wildlife

Undated photo of a public Christmas tree, Oslo, Norway | Photo courtesy of Utah State Extension, St. George News

CHARACTERISTIC – The holidays are here and the festive lights are shining. Although this tradition of enlightenment brings joy to many, it can also be seen as a source of light pollution.

Giant illuminated Santa seen on Main Street in downtown St George, Utah. December 22, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The International Dark Sky Association coined the term “light pollution” to define excessive or unnatural nighttime lighting. The term applies to any adverse effect of artificial light, including sky glow, glare, light intrusion, light clutter, and energy waste. Additionally, light pollution can affect astronomers and scientists, wildlife migrations and activities, and has been linked to human health issues.

Migratory birds that use the moon and stars for navigation may be attracted to light beams from high-rise buildings, towers, lighthouses, oil rigs, etc., disorienting them and leading to more accidents. Additionally, nocturnal predators have the advantage of seeing over a larger area, and their prey must seek darkness and spend more time hiding and less time on daily activities.

A recent study published in “Human-Wildlife Interactions” explains the effects of holiday lighting on the environment during regular periods of darkness. Wildlife students at Texas A&M University-Kingsville reported that holiday lights used to decorate the college campus were a seasonal source of light pollution that contributed to higher predation rates for native eastern fox squirrels. . Eastern fox squirrels exhibited normal daytime and nighttime behaviors throughout the year, but extended their foraging behavior nearly four hours after sunset with the addition of Christmas lights. The students documented that monthly squirrel mortality increased sevenfold with the addition of Christmas lights, possibly due to their longer foraging time.

File photo of a home in Washington City decked out for the holidays, November 30, 2019 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Additional studies suggest that the public is often unaware that bright lights can negatively alter wildlife behavior. For this reason, the students recommended educating the public about the effects of light pollution on wildlife and the environment. Consider these suggestions:

  • Check to see if there is a “Lights Out” program in your community. Some cities have adopted a program where the interior and exterior lighting of high-rise buildings is dimmed or turned off during bird migration. Bare bulbs or upward pointing lights are replaced with hooded fixtures that only shine downward. If the lights cannot be turned off, a flat lens is used along with a reduced number of lights and intensity.
  • Turn off unnecessary outdoor lights at night and turn off holiday lights when you go to bed.
  • Reduce light intensity by using fewer outdoor lights or by using colored lights instead of clear white bulbs. Research shows that colored lights are the least attractive to wildlife and can mitigate negative effects on wildlife.
  • Consider your relationship with the environment and how your actions affect it.
  • Carefully weigh decisions around cost, safety, health and environmental well-being when planning and using outdoor lighting.

To access the full research report, visit

Written by TERRY MESSMER, Utah State University Extension Wildlife Specialist, 435-797-3396.

Copyright St.George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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