Updated: Sep 23
Conservationist Ben Jones was on the front lines of a campaign that darkened the night sky across Texas.
The original article can be found here: "Bird rescuer Ben Jones is a 2021 Texan of the Year finalist". Dallas Morning News Editorial. December 30, 2021.
Texan of the Year finalists will be announced through December as we approach the naming of our 2021 Texan of the Year on Jan. 2. Find the full list at dallasnews.com/opinion/texan-of-the-year.
Just about every morning this fall, you could find Ben Jones wandering the streets of downtown Dallas in the predawn gloom, looking for dead bodies. Bird bodies, that is.
Jones is executive director of the Texas Conservation Alliance. For 90 mornings, he and about 50 volunteers canvassed for birds that died overnight. They found hundreds.
Last year, news broke that scientists were paying a lot more attention to fall and spring bird migrations through Texas. Research from Cornell University combined the science of ornithology with artificial intelligence tools to reveal that about 1 billion birds migrate through our state every year. Many of them die in collisions with lighted buildings.
Conservationists responded by promoting a campaign called Lights Out Texas, which began in 2017 after about 400 birds struck a single building one night in Galveston. Lights Out Texas attracted the support of institutions such as Houston Audubon, Texan by Nature, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and the Dallas Zoo. It also got vocal support from former first lady Laura Bush. And once those voices aligned, the lights started going out.
This year, the largest cities in the state have all joined the effort to make the skies darker during the peak migration nights. Jones said the downtown Dallas skyline was noticeably darker, with about 30 buildings participating in the campaign this fall. Almost all of downtown Fort Worth went dark. Austin passed resolutions, which even encouraged darker skies year-round. Houston, San Antonio and El Paso are all participating, too.
Texan By Nature, the conservation nonprofit founded by Bush, has been the convener for participating organizations, but Jones and his small team of three employees, 10 contractors and a few dozen volunteers have been the boots-on-the-ground champions of the cause, not just collecting corpses, but enlisting volunteers, documenting data for further study and rescuing 200 stunned birds.
There’s no way to know how many birds have been saved, but data is promising.
This fall, Jones and his volunteers collected 383 dead birds on the streets of downtown Dallas. That’s 74 fewer than they collected last fall before the campaign really took off. And that’s despite canvassing 90 mornings this year vs. 50 mornings last year.
Jones said there is evidence that when a building is dark, there’s as much as a 70% decrease in the chances of bird collisions.
Jones grew up in Nederland, Texas, an important spot for birding. He attended Texas A&M University and, after grad school, he went into business consulting at Arthur Andersen. But conservation was calling.
“After a couple of years in big business, I felt like that was the next step for me,” he said. “Life is short. This is what I’ve been interested in since I was very young. I wanted to do something that I really loved.”
For following that passion and helping make Texas a little more hospitable for wildlife, Ben Jones is a finalist for the 2021 Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year.