By Kenny Nguyễn

From the majestic whooping crane to the smallest songbird, an iconic American landmark in Missouri is making the skies safer for spring migrating birds who follow the Mississippi River to reach their summer nesting grounds.

Since 1965 when it was unveiled, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis has punctuated the cityscape at night with lights that illuminate its most visited US National Park. But all during the month of May officials will turn off the lights at night to facilitate safe passage for more than 325 bird species following the route each year on their spring migration.

“St. Louis sits right beneath the Mississippi Flyway, a major migration highway,” said Jeremy Sweat, Superintendent, of Gateway Arch National Park.

For over a decade the exterior lights have been turned off for two weeks each May—and again in September—to help minimize the possible disorienting effect the lights may have on the migrations. But this year the park will keep the lights off for the entire month of May.

Gateway Arch National Park is both a building and program partner with Lights Out Heartland, an organization that works with partners to provide migrating birds safe passage along the Flyway during the high-intensity migration months of May and September.

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According to the St. Louis Audubon Society, sixty percent of North American songbirds and forty percent of waterfowl are anticipated to migrate this spring and fall.

Cranes by J.M. Garg, CC license

“Other ways we are trying to help the birds is to focus the lights better on the Arch,” said Pamela Sanfilippo who works at Gateway Arch National Park. That way, “light doesn’t go up into the sky.”

The towering silver Arch was built to honor a different kind of journey that began in 1804 when President Thomas Jefferson launched the Lewis and Clark Expedition that mapped a path to the Pacific Ocean from the middle of the continent. Two scientist set out with a team of scouts and mapmakers from the river port of Saint Louis, which opened up the West. Today, the Gateway Arch attracts 1.62 million visitors annually.

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In Canada, Toronto has been combatting the hazards of glass buildings for our featured friends, and even made history when they became the first city in the world to mandate bird-friendly buildings.

The Arch’s exterior lights will be turned back on beginning the evening of June 1, 2023, and the monument will be lit nightly thereafter until September.

In recent years, cities and states beneath other migration routes have been turning off the lights for birds, including Texas and Philadelphia.

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