Hundreds of birds die after being fazed by lighthouse

Hundreds of birds die after being fazed by lighthouse

24 November 2021

HUNDREDS of migrating birds are believed to have died after being attracted to the sweeping beam at St John’s Point Lighthouse near Killough, it has emerged.

The birds are believed to have perished after becoming disorientated in fog over the Irish Sea and attracted by the beam, dazzling and causing them to fly in circles until they became exhausted.

Respected ornithologist Chris Murphy, who lives near the lighthouse, has described the incident as “tragic”.

During foggy conditions on November 13 and 14, some of the birds flew into the towering building or the railings around it.

Mr Murphy said although that would not have killed all of the birds, those plunging to the ground injured then fell prey to predators like foxes and stray cats.

He told the BBC that in nearby fields there were piles of orange, white and black feathers and different types of birds everywhere.

The former assistant regional officer for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said that if the birds had been able to land in bushes and trees, they would have been safe from cats and foxes, explaining that fieldfare, redwing, blackbird and song thrush birds were migrating from Scandinavian countries to spend the winter in the British Isles.

“Behind every pile of blackbird’s feathers there’s a bird that’s been traumatised,” Mr Murphy to the Corporation. 

“These are the most beautiful birds, people write poems about them. I’m a bit emotional because I am a bird lover but I think anybody would be moved by these birds. If ever someone brings you a bird, whatever it is, you’ll realise how vulnerable it is and its life depends on how you care for it; every life matters.”

Mr Murphy said there was a similar occurrence at the lighthouse in April 2014 during the spring migration when the birds were returning to Scandinavia. At the time, he and his son found more than 100 dead thrushes.

The dead birds found recently were migrating from Scandinavian countries to spend the winter in the British Isles, with Mr Murphy explaining that the loss of the birds came at a time when their numbers were already under pressure.

“We are in a state of ecological crisis, we’re losing biodiversity hand over fist,” he said. “It’s estimated in Europe in the last 40 years we’ve lost 600 million birds from our breeding population, that is one in six birds in 40 years gone.

“What we are doing to our wetlands, woodlands, lakes and rivers, we are causing these birds to have nowhere to live.”

Mr Murphy said he would be contacting people in England who have more experience of similar occurrences to ask what measures can be put in place to prevent it happening again.

“It is a phenomenon that is well known at lighthouses around the world,” he said.

Mr Murphy added: “I do believe at some they have planted trees and cover for these birds to find protection when they get a chance to land; they can be at least off the ground and safe from cats.”