The Quest for Darker Skies over Portland

By Mary Coolidge, BirdSafe Campaign Coordinator

September is upon us, and the southbound migration of our avian friends is well underway. Migration is among the most astonishing and challenging stages in any bird’s life—a metabolically demanding journey riddled with perils, from hazardous weather and food shortages to human-caused impacts including light pollution. Artificial light in the night sky drowns out the stars that birds use to navigate, pulling them off course and into lit areas where they can become entrapped in light, in some cases even inadvertently calling other birds into hazardously lit areas. 

A photo of blue and purple lights on Tilikum Crossing.
Tilikum Crossing, photo by Old White Truck

Light pollution isn’t just a problem for migrating birds. It impacts entire ecosystems and compromises human health and safety. Completely darkening our cities during migration isn’t practical or safe, but we can take actions to ensure that our lighting is better by design. We can minimize unnecessary light at night, and keep the light that we need on the ground where it’s useful rather than sending it up into the sky where it isn’t. It’s a sound practice in the age of climate change, and it saves money, saves birds, protects human health and affords us a better view of the stars! 

Portland is in the process of taking an important step forward in addressing light pollution. In July, the City released a Draft Dark Skies report that synthesizes the issue and proposes actionable strategies for curbing light pollution, including new code language. The approach can and should take a broad view of planning for our nighttime environment—to correct light-poor areas, address high traffic and pedestrian conflict locations, create a safe and vibrant nightscape for everyone, and simultaneously set standards for better lighting design to ameliorate chronic sources of light trespass that accumulate into skyglow.

Thank you to everyone who submitted comments on this milestone project! The vast majority of the comments the City received were enthusiastically in favor of implementing efforts to preserve dark skies and with it, human and ecosystem health.  

Stay involved:

  • Submit testimony to City Council in support of adopting the final report and approving funding to complete the development of a new Dark Skies code. On September 17, Council will hold a virtual (Zoom) hearing to adopt the final Dark Skies Report and Recommendations. The final report will be available on September 3 and will be linked from our website. We still need people to submit written or oral testimony in support of this effort! 
  • Join us for a virtual Science on Tap talk on The Case for Dark Skies: 7 p.m. on September 3 or on Facebook Live:
  • Participate in our Fall Lights Out Launch on Saturday, September 19! This year, the mayor will proclaim September 19 as Lights Out Portland Night. The launch event encourages Portlanders to take the pledge to turn off their unnecessary overnight lighting during migration season. Lighting necessary for safety and circulation is exempt.
  • Follow Lights Out Alerts in September and October! Radar tracking from Colorado State University’s AeroEco Lab indicates that over half of the birds that pass through Oregon skies during fall migration will move between September 19 and October 19. While it is important to manage your lighting well every night of the year, it is more important than ever to do this while birds are aloft over Oregon. Approximately nine nights in this period will be high volume Red Alerts issued by the AeroEco Lab, and we will send up a signal to let you know!
  • Take the Pledge to Go Lights Out! This is a simple pledge to turn off unnecessary lighting overnight and ensure that your lights are well shielded, warm, and no brighter than necessary every night of the year! 

For more information, contact Mary Coolidge at