Anthropogenic modifications to the natural environment have profound effects on wild animals, through structural changes to natural ecosystems as well as anthropogenic disturbances such as light and noise. For animals that migrate nocturnally, anthropogenic light can interfere with migration routes, flight altitudes, and social activities that accompany migration, such as acoustic communication. We investigated the effect of anthropogenic light on nocturnal migration of birds through the Great Lakes ecosystem. Specifically, we recorded the vocal activity of migrating birds and compared the number of nocturnal flight calls produced above rural areas with ground-level artificial lights compared to nearby areas without lights. We show that more nocturnal flight calls are detected over artificially lit areas. The median number of nocturnal flight calls recorded at sites with artificial lights (31 per night, interquartile range: 15–135) was 3 times higher than at nearby sites without artificial lights (11 per night, interquartile range: 4–39). By contrast, the number of species detected at lit and unlit sites did not differ significantly (artificially lit sites: 6.5 per night, interquartile range: 5.0–8.8; unlit sites: 4.5 per night, interquartile range: 2.0–7.0). We conclude that artificial lighting changes the behavior of nocturnally migrating birds. The increased detections could be a result of ground-level light sources altering bird behavior during migration. For example, birds might have changed their migratory route to pass over lit areas, flown at lower altitudes over lit areas, increased their calling rate over lit areas, or remained longer over lit areas. Our results for ground-level lights correspond to previous findings demonstrating that migratory birds are influenced by lights on tall structures.
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Vol. 118 • No. 2