To all a Good Night

By Courtney Baker

With a spring of solar flares carrying the northern lights further south than usual, more of us have been making an effort to enjoy the night sky. Of course when we go out into the dark we aren’t alone, we are accompanied by bats, birds, moths and more of the wonderful species that call Simcoe home.  

Sadly, despite waiting all day for the sun to go down, these species aren’t getting the dark they need. For example, artificial lighting can cause bats to miss dusk – they think the sun is still shining. Dusk is critical to the life of a bat because it is when the maximum number of insects are available to hunt. Artificial light can stop bats from leaving their roost in time for their best chance for food and populations must become more competitive. 

The insects themselves are also affected by light pollution. The obvious example is moths flying toward light, it may seem harmless, but it affects their potential to pollinate plants. Research has found that 70% of moths are drawn up toward artificial light, as opposed to being drawn to the plants they have evolved to pollinate. This means the night shift is only doing 30% of its job pollinating, this in turn affects the plants themselves.  

As it turns out, plants don’t produce as much pollen when the demand is low if they aren’t being pollinated at night. It means when the day shift wakes up they don’t have as much to feed on and the whole system is weakened. 

Plants themselves are further depleted by constant light and their photoreceptors (biological light sensors that inform when to open their buds or drop their leaves) are confused. This disruption brings buds out earlier in the spring and holds leaves later in the fall. The tree is now working much harder – it’s awake longer.  

Nights in spring and fall are a pressing time for migratory birds. 80% of migratory birds fly at night, which is why they suddenly appear at your feeder without you seeing thousands of birds overhead each day. Birds, like ancient people, navigate by the night sky. Unfortunately as these creatures are drawn to bright lights up to 5km away, they can become hopelessly lost, unable to escape once they’ve become entrapped. Birds can even circle the lights, flying around them until they die of exhaustion. 

But, don’t despair! The good news is that solving this problem for many of us is as easy as flicking a switch! The beauty of the light pollution issue is that it’s so easy to solve. 

Please, take the opportunity to get curious and audit your own light use, does the porch light need to be on all night? Could you use a motion sensor? If you need new front lights, could you purchase a set that are properly capped? The bats, birds, moths, and plants will thank you.

Courtney Baker is the Office and Acquisition Coordinator at The Couchiching Conservancy, protecting nature for future generations

Photo: Pink skies all night next to Point Pelee National Park, a major North American migration route