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Artificial Lighting Helps Blackbirds 'Seize the Night' But Lose Sleep

Oct 21, 2014 04:58 PM EDT
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You're likely quite familiar with the adage 'the early bird gets the worm,' but what about late nights? Now researchers are finding that artificial lighting in urban parts of the world is making some species stay out later, significantly influencing how they function from day-to-day.

A study recently published in the Journal of Ornithology details how scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and Leipzig University in Germany found that street noise and artificial light was making urban blackbirds stay up later than their counterparts in quieter unlit forests.

This was determined in an assessment of over 200 blackbirds (Turdus merula) between 2011 and 2013. These birds were observed living in a part of Leipzig, Germany that stretched up to about two miles from the city's center. This gave them adequate space to observe birds of the same species who lived in well-lit urban areas and those who flitted around the darker surrounding floodplain forests.

Interestingly, the researchers quickly found that artificial light had a bigger impact on urban blackbirds in the winter than it did in the spring, simply due to the fact that street lamps and city-glow kept habitats lit under a fast-setting sun.

However, "the longer the days grew, the smaller the difference became," Anja Ruß of UFZ explained in a release. "In the summer, there were just a few minutes' difference between city and forest birds."

Stunningly, the researchers also found that despite the fact that they had more time to forage for nearly half the year, the urban blackbirds were no healthier than forest blackbirds. This could be due to the fact that they were simply losing sleep, and burning more energy in their late nights.

"Whilst pollution of air, noise and water have been anchored in the minds of the public for a long time and have been scientifically researched to a corresponding extent, awareness of the problem of the loss of the natural darkness of the night due to artificial light and the far-reaching changes in natural processes is coming to the fore much more slowly," a UZF correspondent added.

Nature World News similarly reported how some experts are worried that "eco-friendly" LED lamps may prove even more harmful to nature than contemporary artificial lighting due to their disruptive blue wavelength light.

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