Updated: May 28
This blog article was written by Skyler N, TCA’s College Station-based Spring 2023 intern, in reflection of his experience spearheading his internship project: Lights Out, College Station!
As I reach the end of my freshman year at Texas A&M University, I can't help but reflect on the incredible internship experience I've had with Texas Conservation Alliance (TCA) this semester. This was my second semester with TCA, as I previously interned with them during Summer 2022. However, this semester has been particularly special as I had the opportunity to frame and pilot the Lights Out, College Station! (LOCS) collision survey program on my campus.
TCA is an on-the-ground leader in the statewide Lights Out, Texas! campaign. The goal at large is to reduce migratory bird mortalities from building collisions by darkening the night sky. As many as 1 billion birds die from flying into buildings in the US every year – most of which occur in spring and fall when birds are migrating. Light pollution (as the name implies) is a leading contributor to this problem as our night-time lights often distract and disorient birds as they migrate during the night.
Over the 9-week period, the LOCS team surveyed a 4-mile on-campus route every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning for 2 hours. The interesting part of this project was that no one has ever done this before at our campus… so we had no idea what we’d find, and many mornings, we found nothing (which isn’t a bad thing - no dead birds is good!). However, as we reached deeper in the spring migration season, things started to obviously change. We went from finding a few birds a week to filling our entire log sheet in just one day (10 birds).
During the height of the critical migration period, our team also encountered many alive birds that were stunned from colliding with buildings. These birds were collected and given time to safely recover, leading to some very rewarding releases for volunteers and myself whom cherished the opportunity to help the few collision specimens we found alive.
Beyond surveys, I also worked on Lights Out efforts at Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections (BRTC). There’s a statewide salvage pipeline for specimens from Lights Out survey programs as well as many rehabilitation clinics which allows specimens to be opportunistically sampled for research and cataloged into the collections. I work on a team that performs taxonomical preparations, data recording, and tissue sampling. It’s been very full circle for me to now have led a survey program. One morning I’d find and collect birds, and a week later they’d be at my prep table getting sampled and stuffed – super cool! The team at BRTC also brought a lot of expertise in supporting the new survey program and assisted us in securing permits to work with the state and federally protected migratory birds!
In all, we found 65 specimens (60 mortalities, 5 stuns) across 22 species and 19 buildings on campus. Notably, we documented 2 species for the first time in any Lights Out, Texas! survey program: the American Pipit and Bell’s Vireo. With the data collected, I aim to establish a foundation for informed decision-making and developing effective strategies to reduce bird-building collisions in the future. I hope to work with statewide partners and university decision-makers in pursuing bird-friendly standards on my campus.
If you’re interested in learning about my project’s objectives, methodology, findings, community engagement, and recommendations, you can find more information in the Lights Out, College Station! Spring 2023 Report.
Looking back, I’m amazed by how much experience and knowledge I’ve gained in such a short time, but also by the opportunity I’ve had to contribute to wildlife-saving efforts in my city. TCA’s internship program offers many different potential projects, and you can even propose a project of your own. I would highly recommend any aspiring conservationists in Texas to apply for the upcoming fall semester internships! The remote-style program allows for better balance between academics and other responsibilities, as well as make your work more meaningful to your community. All in all, I have found myself - an ally for all wildlife - to be an unexpected bird enthusiast, and more than all, a leader in my community.