Effects of artificial light on bird movement and distribution: a systematic map


Artificial light is ubiquitous in the built environment with many known or suspected impacts on birds. Birds flying at night are known to aggregate around artificial light and collide with illuminated objects, which may result from attraction and/or disorientation. In other contexts, birds are repelled by light-based deterrents, including lasers and spotlights. Artificial light can also change birds’ perceptions of habitat quality, resulting in selection or avoidance of illuminated areas. Studies documenting aggregation, deterrence, and habitat selection are typically considered separate literature bodies, but they actually study a common set of populations, interventions/exposures, and responses. Our systematic map provides a comprehensive, searchable database of evidence of the effects of artificial light on bird movement and distribution, increasing both the quantity and diversity of studies that are accessible for further comparison and synthesis. We identify and describe the evidence available for four secondary questions relevant to conservation or management: aggregation/mortality at structures with artificial lights, evidence that light attracts and/or disorients birds, light-based deterrent efficacy, and the influence of continuous illumination on habitat selection.


Using the principles of systematic reviews and methods published in an earlier protocol, we conducted an extensive and interdisciplinary literature search. We searched multidisciplinary citation indices as well as databases and websites specific to conservation, pest management, transportation, and energy. In our map, we included all studies reporting eligible populations (birds), interventions/exposures (artificial light), and outcomes (movement through space, behaviour preceding movement, or distribution). We evaluated the quantity of available evidence based on meta-data fields related to study context, population traits, light source characteristics, and outcome variables. We used these meta-data to identify relevant evidence for each secondary question and describe aspects of our secondary questions that may support reviews (evidence clusters) and others that require more research (knowledge gaps).

Review findings

We manually screened 26,208 articles and coded meta-data for 490 eligible studies in a searchable database, organizing the literature to facilitate future reviews and evidence-based management. Much of the evidence was concentrated in particular locations (Northern hemisphere), taxonomic orders (Passeriformes, Charadriiformes, and others), and light wavelengths (red and white). We identified 56 distinct response variables and organized them into 3 categories (behaviour, distribution, and avian community), showing the diversity in bird responses to light.


Our database can be used to answer the secondary questions we identified and other questions about the effects of artificial light on bird movement and resulting changes to distribution. There may be sufficient evidence for a review of the weather and lunar conditions associated with collisions, which could help identify nights when reduction of artificial light is most important. Further experiments should investigate whether specific types of light can reduce collisions by increasing the detectability of structures with artificial lights. The efficacy of lasers as deterrents could be evaluated through systematic review, though more studies are needed for UV/violet lasers. To reduce the impacts of outdoor lighting on birds, research should investigate how spectral composition of white light influences bird attraction, orientation, and habitat selection.


Light pollution, Artificial light, Wildlife conservation, Evidence synthesis, Human–wildlife conflict, Behaviour, Wildlife deterrents, Bird strike, Nocturnal migration, Avian mortality


Anthropogenic light is known or suspected to exert profound effects on many taxa, including birds. Documentation of bird aggregation around artificial light at night, as well as observations of bird reactions to strobe lights and lasers, suggests that light may both attract and repel birds, although this assumption has yet to be tested. These effects may cause immediate changes to bird movement, habitat selection and settlement, and ultimately alter bird distribution at large spatial scales. Global increases in the extent of anthropogenic light contribute to interest by wildlife managers and the public in managing light to reduce harm to birds, but there are no evidence syntheses of the multiple ways light affects birds to guide this effort. Existing reviews usually emphasize either bird aggregation or deterrence and do so for a specific context, such as aggregation at communication towers and deterrence from airports. We outline a protocol for a systematic map that collects and organizes evidence from the many contexts in which anthropogenic light is reported to affect bird movement, habitat selection, or distribution. Our map will provide an objective synthesis of the evidence that identifies subtopics that may support systematic review and knowledge gaps that could direct future research questions. These products will substantially advance an understanding of both patterns and processes associated with the responses of birds to anthropogenic light.


The protocol describes the steps taken to ensure the search for evidence is comprehensive, transparent and replicable. We will find relevant studies in the grey and peer-reviewed literature using publication databases, Google Scholar, stakeholder suggestions, and organizational websites. We will select studies for inclusion in the map by identification of relevant: (i) population including any species of bird; (ii) intervention or exposure to anthropogenic light; and (iii) outcomes including changes in bird movement, habitat occupancy, population density, or distribution. We will extract and organize metadata into a systematic map that can support subsequent search by interested individuals. The quantity of evidence on particular topics will be characterized through heat maps and narrative syntheses, but subsequent work will be needed to evaluate evidence validity.