Foreshadowing the Amphibian Crisis: The Wyoming Toad

Authored by Blake Klocke, curator of amphibians for The Detroit Zoological Society

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is helping a species hop back from extinction!

The Wyoming toad was once found in abundance in the Laramie River Basin. However, catastrophic population declines were observed throughout the 1970s. By 1983, the Wyoming toad was thought to be extinct. Biologists could make no clear determination for the cause of the decline.

With a bit of luck, a small population of about 20 animals was rediscovered in 1987 at Mortenson Lake, bringing hope that the species could be saved. Rescuing the species by bringing it into captivity was the only option to avoid extinction.

Amphibian Chytrid Fungus and Preventing Amphibian Extinctions

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, amphibian declines were common around the globe – something that puzzled biologists. At the time, there was no obvious answer as to why multiple amphibian species were rapidly disappearing in Australia, Central America and the United States. In 1998, the amphibian chytrid fungus – a microscopic primitive fungi – was discovered to be the cause of disease resulting in these declines. Biologists have attributed the amphibian chytrid fungus to be the primary cause of approximately 100 amphibian extinctions and to have impacted more than 700 amphibian species. No other wildlife disease has impacted biodiversity as much as this fungus. 

The Wyoming toad is highly susceptible to the amphibian chytrid fungus. The National Amphibian Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo was built in part as a response to the amphibian biodiversity crisis, which assisted in keeping some of the most imperiled species away from the edge of extinction. The Wyoming toads at Detroit Zoo live in a biosecure room, which keeps them safe from being potentially exposed to the disease!

Ex-situ rescue, which is when a species is brought out of the wild into captivity for conservation, is a last resort. Unfortunately, we are often left with no other options. Rescuing a species in captivity requires intensive management to maintain the population, and it’s a long-term commitment by a dedicated and passionate team.

Wyoming Toads at the DZS

The DZS was an early partner in rescuing Wyoming toads, welcoming our first toads in 1995. A Species Survival Program (SSP) was also formed in 1996 to organize efforts among zoo partners and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The amphibian team at the DZS has produced 10,730 Wyoming toad tadpoles, toadlets and adults for reintroduction since joining the program in 2001! These animals are bred at the DZS and later sent to Wyoming to be released into the wild. The Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics at the Detroit Zoo has also led studies that have helped improve the husbandry of Wyoming toads in captivity by comparing the preferences for substrate, which improves our care for this very important species.

Caring for Wyoming Toads at the Detroit Zoo

Mike Andrus is the primary colleague who takes care of the Wyoming toads at the DZS, and his years of experience in the amphibian department caring for these toads is one of the keys to Detroit Zoo’s success. Mike handles more than 30 toads at the Zoo

Mike Andrus is the primary colleague who takes care of the Wyoming toads at the DZS, and his years of experience in the amphibian department caring for these toads is one of the keys to Detroit Zoo’s success. Mike handles more than 30 toads at the Zoo, where he carefully cycles the temperature throughout the year, including when he places the toads in a refrigerator to hibernate. This process requires a lot of fine-tuning and experience – and prepares the toads, which are each equipped with their own individual ID to track genetics, for breeding.

Mike Andrus holds a Wyoming toad in the biosecure room.

Wyoming toad tadpole reintroductions

In June 2022, Mike traveled to Laramie, Wyoming to participate in the reintroduction of Wyoming toad tadpoles. Several thousand tadpoles were sent from SSP partners for reintroductions. It was a busy day, as tadpoles were placed in bags of about 100 animals and methodically distributed around reintroduction sites.

Tadpole reintroductions are very important to continue supporting the recruitment of new toads into the population. In the months following the tadpole reintroductions, hundreds of recently meta morphed toads are found — each one with the potential to make it to adulthood and breed in the wild.

Bags of tadpoles produced by zoos around the country and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acclimate before reintroduction.

Wyoming toad surveys

In August 2022, I participated in the Wyoming toad field surveys and an annual SSP meeting. The team was successful in finding many young toads, likely from tadpole reintroductions and some wild breeding. The most exciting part was finding more than 15 breeding-sized adults! Some of the toads had a small identification tag, demonstrating that reintroduced juveniles and adults from captivity are surviving in the wild.

Wyoming toads were found at all four field sites the team visited, a very good sign for a species that was once thought to be on the verge of extinction. Currently, there is no method to mitigate the amphibian chytrid fungus in the wild, but in recent years there are an increasing number of rediscoveries of species once thought to be extinct and vulnerable species persisting in the presence of chytrid.

We’re optimistic that the Wyoming toad will soon hop back from extinction!

A toad reintroduced months beforehand was found during our surveys and appeared in good health. Adult toads receive a tiny tag, much like a micro-chip for a cat or dog, that let us know who they are when they are found in the wild! 

Thank you to our SSP partners, who make saving this species possible:

• U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

• Kansas City Zoo

• Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

• Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium 

• Como Zoo

• Mississippi River Museum

Seeing Green: DZS Team Plants Trees in Metro Detroit

DZS employees and their families are volunteering to plant trees throughout Metro Detroit.

Members of the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) team have been rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty for a good cause. 

As part of our commitment to plant 2,000 trees at the Detroit Zoo, the Belle Isle Nature Center and throughout all of Metro Detroit, we have partnered with Greening of Detroit, a member of the Metro Detroit Nature Network, along with American Forests, the Oakland County Economic Development Department and Royal Oak Township to lead or co-sponsor five tree plantings throughout the area this fall. 

We have been thrilled to partner with Greening of Detroit, a nonprofit organization focused on enhancing the quality of life for Detroiters by planting trees, providing job training and involving youth in education about the natural environment. So far, we have completed three of our five plantings, and our staff is having a blast making our communities — quite literally — greener!

At a recent event, DZS employees and their families volunteered their Saturday morning to plant trees along Cloverlawn Avenue and surrounding streets in Detroit. After three hours of digging through compacted soil and clay, we were left with 50 brand-new trees lining both sides of the street. These trees will not only beautify the area, but they will also play an important role in the neighborhood environment. In addition to providing shade and habitat for local wildlife, planting trees in urban areas has been shown to reduce stormwater runoff and improve air quality. 

“These plantings are a lot of work — and a lot of fun,” says Andy McDowell, DZS manager of sustainability. “The DZS has always been committed to environmental sustainability, and now our team is thrilled to give back to local communities and make the world greener one tree at a time.” 

Interested in signing up for one of our remaining tree plantings in Metro Detroit? Click here.

Join us in congratulating our CEO, Dr. Hayley Murphy, on her Selection to a Prestigious Leadership Program!

The Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS) top leader, Dr. Hayley Murphy, is ready to take her leadership skills to the next level.

Hayley has served as our executive director and chief executive officer since November 2021  and was recently honored by the Detroit Regional Chamber as one of the newest members of its Leadership Detroit program. Launched in 1979, Leadership Detroit is an eight-month transformational leadership program designed to challenge emerging and existing community leaders from southeast Michigan to bring about positive change. The program also aims to create awareness of key issues that affect the Detroit region. 

“I’m honored and humbled to be named a member of the newest class of the Leadership Detroit program,” Hayley says. “I’m committed to taking my leadership to the next level, challenging my previous assumptions and building relationships with the exceptional men and women who I call classmates.” 

As a member of the 43rd class of this program, Hayley is among 70 regional executives who represent a cross-section of the community, including business, organized labor, government, education, media, civic groups, health services and community organizations. After completing the program, she will join more than 2,000 colleagues who call themselves alumni of Leadership Detroit. 

“Leadership Detroit offers a unique experience that takes leaders on a journey out of their comfort zones to challenge long-held assumptions and to embrace multiple and diverse perspectives on quality-of-life issues in the Detroit region,” says Devon O’Reilly, the program’s senior director of community engagement and leadership development. “Through carefully curated sessions and experiences throughout the year, this class will have an opportunity to better connect with each other, hear directly from key regional leaders across multiple sectors, and enhance their intangible skills that will help them shape this region’s future in their positions of leadership.”

Hayley’s new involvement with Leadership Detroit is just one of the many programs she is affiliated with. She is the founder and director emeritus of the Great Ape Heart Project, an international, multi-institutional effort aimed at investigating, diagnosing and treating heart disease in great apes. She is also a veterinary advisor to the Gorilla Species Survival Plan and the Great Ape Taxonomic Advisory Group. Hayley also serves as the chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Ethics Board and as a board member for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.  

“I couldn’t be more excited to extend my professional development and community involvement through the Leadership Detroit program,” Hayley adds. “I’m ready to dive deep into Detroit and its history, gain new insights into leadership theory and practice, and apply what I learn at the DZS.”

Join all of us at the DZS in offering Hayley a big congratulations!

Penguin Egg Laid at Cincinnati Zoo Hatches at Detroit Zoo

DEC. 8, 2022 UPDATE: We’re happy to announce that the penguin chick was determined to be male and has been named Maximilian! Called “Max”for short, he is growing up healthy and tall alongside his doting foster parents.

There’s a fluffy new bundle of joy at the Detroit Zoo! 

A yet-to-be named king penguin chick hatched at the Detroit Zoo on Aug. 13 — but this chick’s story actually began nearly 300 miles away, at the Cincinnati Zoo.

The chick’s biological parents, 27-year-old Larry and 8-year-old Stacy, initially laid the egg, and Cincinnati staff quickly learned the egg was fertile through a process called “floating.” In this process, an egg is floated in warm water to look for ripples in the water. 

“We were excited to confirm fertility when the little bundle of joy was bouncing around like crazy,” says Jennifer Gainer, the Cincinnati Zoo’s curator of birds. 

Not long after, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan recommended the Detroit Zoo as a home for the future chick, and representatives from both zoos started collaborating – carefully crafting a plan to incubate, transport and transfer the king penguin chick egg to its new foster parents.  

Awaiting the little nestling at the Detroit Zoo was the perfect pair of foster parents – a 21-year-old male and a 7-year-old female named Gertie. These king penguins blended and bonded during the July to September mating season but didn’t produce an egg of their own. Instead, to prepare the couple for parenthood, zookeepers provided the pair a “practice” egg to care for until the “real” egg from the Cincinnati Zoo arrived.  

“It was a perfect situation,” says Jessica Jozwiak, bird supervisor at the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS). “We had a pair that was closely bonded but did not produce an egg this year, so we were able to give this egg to them. Everything has worked out wonderfully.” 

Since hatching, the chick has been thriving. While the sex of the chick is not yet known, it is growing up behind the scenes, closely cared for by its attentive foster parents. After fledging, the chick will live with inside the habitat at the Polk Penguin Conservation Center with the rest of the king, macaroni, rockhopper and chinstrap penguins who call the center home. 

We can’t wait to see this special chick grow up!

Great Ape Heart Project Finds Home in Detroit

Aaron Jesue tries not to play favorites. 

However, as he watches Kongo, Pende and Chip, a bachelor group of brother gorillas, lounge about their habitat at the Detroit Zoo, the answer to which gorilla holds Jesue’s heart comes easily. 

“It’s Pende,” he says, a smile spread wide across his face. “He’s inquisitive and curious. He will sit on top of the hill and just stare down at everyone. You can almost feel it in your body. He loves to get a reaction.”

Over the course of his career as a zoo animal care team member, Jesue has worked with dozens of gorillas, and like Pende, he says each is unique and special in their own way. Despite their differences, many gorillas and fellow great apes share a common health risk. Much like it is for humans, heart disease is the leading cause of death observed among great apes in zoos.

Though Jesue understands heart complications may be a reality for his favorite gorilla one day, he takes comfort in knowing a group dedicated to mitigating these issues in great apes is now headquartered at his Zoo.  

In early 2022, the Great Ape Heart Project (GAHP), a group of experts who provide a network of clinical, pathologic and research strategies to aid in understanding and treating cardiac disease in all ape species, moved its headquarters to the Detroit Zoo. Originally based at Zoo Atlanta, this collaborative project was founded to create a centralized database that analyzes cardiac data, generates reports and coordinates cardiac-related research. The move to Detroit was announced after Dr. Hayley Murphy, founder and director emeritus of the GAHP, was named the executive director and chief executive officer of the Detroit Zoological Society. 

A gorilla receives a health exam at the Detroit Zoo.

Though formally established in 2010, the GAHP got its start much earlier. As a veterinary advisor to the gorilla Species Survival Plan,  Murphy began seeing an increase in the number of cardiovascular disease cases reported in gorillas housed at Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institutions. Together with cardiologist Dr. Ilana Kutinksy, Murphy created a Gorilla Cardiac Database in 2002 to better analyze and compare the cases they observed in great apes. Overtime, the database gained momentum, and in
2010, with the assistance of a National Leadership Planning Grant from the Institute
of Museum and Library Services, the GAHP was officially born. 

“I love gorillas — I love all apes, but I’ve worked the most with gorillas,” Murphy says. “I fell in love with them when I was just beginning my career as a zoo vet, and I realized the toll heart disease was taking on the population. I saw a need to combine the research being done on heart disease so that these apes could live healthier lives. For me, this was a perfect combination of a passion I had for animals combined with a passion for veterinary medicine.”

In its more than a decade of life, the project has maintained a hub for researchers that includes data for more than 90 percent of adult great apes in AZA-accredited institutions. Today, the primarily volunteer-run project creates procedures and best practices used in all AZA zoos and other institutions around the world. In 2020, the project was recognized for its achievements in advancing scientific research with the AZA’s Research Award.

A gorilla undergoes a health exam at the Detroit Zoo.

“We provide real-time support to institutions that may not have experts on site,” says Dr. Marietta Danforth, GAHP director. “Our team of dedicated volunteers includes cardiologists, pathologists, researchers, zookeepers and managers all coming together with their persective and expertise to create a database to best understand, treat and monitor apes for cardiovascular disease. This has really grown into something huge and impactful.”

While “database” may conjure images of big-screen computers and abstract numbers, Murphy and Danforth say the impacts of the GAHP are just as real as the mammals it seeks to protect. 

“We have certainly seen an increase in lifespan in great apes since we’ve started,” Murphy says. “That’s not only because of us, but I do think we have made a difference. There’ve been many times when people have called us with really sick apes, and we’ve been able to help. We’ve seen these animals recover and live much longer than they would have otherwise. I think that is a really huge marker
of success.”

Now that the GAHP is based at the Detroit Zoo, with which Danforth says the project had an excellent working relationship even before Murphy’s appointment as CEO/executive director, its leaders hope it can continue to spread its reach and save the lives of great apes — from gorillas to chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos and more.

The Great Ape Heart Project moved to Detroit in 2022.

“My vision for the future is that we remain a hub of the wheel where researchers, vets and zookeepers can come together and share resources for great apes,” Murphy says.

“The GAHP exists because everyone involved loves these animals so much. We want to see them thrive. It’s this passion that keeps the program running.”

As a member of the animal care staff on grounds each day caring for the gorillas who call the Detroit Zoo home, Jesue believes having the GAHP at his home Zoo will have positive outcomes for his favorite gorillas going forward. 

“We are going to be able to help great apes around the world. It’s so cool that we can now say this is based at the Detroit Zoo,” Jesue says, keeping a watchful eye over Pende as the silverback meanders through his habitat. “I’m so glad this resource is here for Pende, Chip and Kongo. Because of the work the GAHP does, I believe these guys are going to live long, healthy lives.”  

Chip, Kongo and Pende explore their habitat at the Detroit Zoo.

Sarah Culton is the communications manager at the Detroit Zoological Society.

Wildlife Adventure Stories: When the Animals Were Equal

A long time ago, all the animals looked the same, with gray as the only color and no horns. 

Although they all lived in harmony, they were different shapes and sizes. Food was equally shared by the animals. Animals who fed on meat and animals who fed on plants shared the same fields and watering holes. 

One day, a bitter dispute emerged among various animal families about whose turn it was to go up the mountain to collect food for all. The elephant said he was too tired to get to and fro. The hippo noted that the land was too hot for his bare skin. The lions indicated they had young babies they could not leave behind unattended. In the end, no one volunteered, and all went to sleep hungry that night. Early the following day, everyone showed long yawns, walking feebly around the grassland. Yet, no one was ready to scale up the mountain to collect food. The second night, they went to bed still hungry. However, on the third day, it became unbearable, and the intense hunger led some animals to find alternative food sources. 

The giraffe figured out that tasty leaves hung low from the trees. The hippo moved to live in the waters, while the bushbuck retreated to a nearby forest. The lions stayed put among the tall grass, feeding off the animals in the plains. 

To distinguish themselves from other species, families chose their own colors and patterns of fur, marking the final distinctions among the animal kingdoms. 

And that, my friends, is the story of “When the Animals Were Equal.”

I hope you enjoyed the story. Until next time, kwaheri, goodbye!

Detroit Zoological Society Celebrates Animal Care Staff

The Detroit Zoo has been busy celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week!

Hosted from July 18-24, National Zookeeper Week is an annual event that honors the hard work, dedication and passion of the people who care for zoo animals around the country.

To say “thank you” to the hard-working individuals who ensure the animals at the Detroit Zoo receive the highest level of care, we planned a full week of events to make them feel valued and appreciated. 

These events included: 

• An animal care staff breakfast

• A vet ice cream social

• An all-staff picnic

• A food truck rally

• A Zookeeper Olympics

• An Executive Leadership Team cookout

• Dessert Day

We had so much fun at all these events, and we wanted to share the fun with all our readers. Scroll down to see photos we took throughout the week and help us thank our animal care staff for doing an excellent job 365 days of the year. 

Vet Ice Cream Social 2022
Vet Ice Cream Social 2022
Vet Ice Cream Social 2022
All-Staff Picnic 2022
All-Staff Picnic 2022
All-Staff Picnic 2022
Food Truck Rally 2022

ELT Cookout 2022

Zookeeper Olympics 2022 Sack Race
Zookeeper Olympics 2022 Donut Contest
Zookeeper Olympics 2022 Donut Contest
Zookeeper Olympics 2022 Donut Contest

Zookeeper Olympics 2022

Zookeeper Olympics 2022 Haystack Contest
Zookeeper Olympics Sack Race
Zookeeper Olympics Winners
Zookeeper Olympics Third Place Team

Zookeeper Olympics Second Place Team

Zookeeper Olympics First Place Team

Detroit Zoo Welcomes Nearly 100 Bird Species During Spring Migration

Throughout spring migration, the Detroit Zoo’s 125 acres provided refuge to many weary travelers. Now that the season is coming to a close, our staff is looking back at all the feathered friends who used our grounds as a stop on their journeys.

Read more about migration season and how you can help birds arrive at their destinations safely.

Blackpoll warbler

Over the last couple months, Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) team members have spent many hours surveying what bird species have been utilizing the habitats here at the Detroit Zoo. Some of these species live here year-round, while many species have shown up during migration and will spend the summer here breeding on Zoo grounds. Additionally, several species have used the Zoo to rest or refuel for a matter of hours or days on a long journey home to their breeding grounds.

We have seen and heard many species of songbirds, black-crowned night herons, a redhead, spotted sandpipers and much more! From March until the end of May, we accumulated at least 93 species on Zoo grounds.

Canada warbler

The incredible journeys these brave travelers make every year are hard to put into words. Many winter as far south as Central or South America and may head far north of us into the Upper Peninsula or northern Canada to breed. The blackpoll warbler is one of these extraordinary migrants who recharged at the Zoo this May. This tiny, insectivorous species only weighs around 11 grams and sings a very high-pitched song. They often travel more than 10,000 miles round trip — including an Atlantic Ocean crossing — as they head back and forth from South America to northern Canada and Alaska. 

Migrating birds overcome extreme challenges when heading back and forth between breeding and wintering grounds. Besides exhaustion and native predators, there are many human-made challenges.  Fragmented habitats, light pollution, domestic cats and windows are just some of the man-made threats that make migration even harder. Here at the Detroit Zoo, we are proud to provide these birds an excellent, protected habitat on their perilous journeys.

Learn how you can help reduce light pollution and save birds’ lives.

— Matt Porter is a member of the DZS birds animal care staff.

Wildlife Adventure Stories: Wildebeests —  The Journey to the North

I was born in the south, thousands of us all in a synchronized timeline when the grass was greenest and at its highest peak. For generation upon generation of wildebeest, it has remained that way. My father was born here, as was his father before him, hundreds of generations.

Our births are a sign of a change in our family landscape and a shift everyone has recognized. It’s automatic, second nature to all of them, and they have told me I would learn to remember my mother’s patterns and smells if I was to survive.

There are signs of the rains gathering over the Serengeti far from us to the north. The grass here will soon be picked clean by my fellow wildebeest, our neighboring antelope and zebra, and all different kinds of creatures who feast upon them. My mother has said that the time has come for us to travel north with the next generation born. We must follow the rains and the grasses that grow from them. The year has only just begun, and we will spend it following the rains and grass. We, old, young, born just hours ago, will travel — millions of wildebeest from thousands of herds. Even now, in the dead of night, as we all gather, ready to move, the sound of hooves is loud, and we stretch everywhere that the eye can see. It will be a dangerous journey, as all the adults have warned me. But we must travel. We must obey the distant call.

It has been months since we began our migration. And, in a word, it has been scary. The month is May, and hundreds of our family friends have met their ends in the Grumeti River. My mother and I stood atop the banks of the north shore and watched as the crocodiles gazed at us with hunger. The sounds of us trampling across the river rolled through like never-ending thunder. I asked why this was necessary.

“Because we need the grass in the north.” She told me, “Now come along; we cannot hesitate; we must continue if we are not to be late.” We still have three months to go until we arrive north, and it has only dawned on me that we will take the same path down south.

By August, I had learned that Grumeti is kind compared to the river Mara. When we crossed it, our elders scoffed and smiled. 

“The rains have been slow this year,” they said, “and the river is not as bad as before.” 

They’ve told me stories about years when the rain was unforgiving. When the rapids of the water tore through us like lions, the crocodiles even hesitated to close in. They tell us to count our blessings, even as today’s rapids continue to attack and harm us. Our crossing is like a bed of rivers traveling across each other. Streams of dozens and thousands of wildebeest barreling through the water at random, with no order, just a desire to cross. No turning back, and we take a leap of faith.

But, after crossing, we reached our destination in the north. The grasses here are plentiful and green, beautiful and tall. They’ve told us children that we will stay here for three months, as that is what can sustain us. So here we shall prevail. I think back to the rivers and all those lost, and I realize that the only way to honor them truly is to thrive here while we still may. Occasionally, we saw humans watching us from their machines and gazing upon us as we grazed or watching us as we crossed rivers. Some cried out while hanging to the last straw, eventually letting it go. Others just looked on in spectacle. There are more humans here, many of them with weapons that ring out like thunder. 

Already, just three months later, in November, we can feel the pull of the rains to the south. The grasses here, just as in the south towards the end of February, have started to fail us, they can no longer sustain us. On a better side, however, the elders have told us stories about how this is the easiest leg of the journey. Going south, we cross no major rivers, no rapids will plague us anymore. Now all we must deal with are lions in the grasses. They’ve told me that it will be easy, though I’m still afraid.

It is December, and we’re halfway through this final leg. We’ve traveled alongside pouring rain, and we can hear and see the storm clouds thunder and feel the rain continue to drench the grasses down south. It’s been almost a year since I’ve been born at the farthest south part of our journey. The grass should be just as high and green as they were when I was born, it will be a wonderful sight.

Exactly one year since I entered this world, I have returned to the scene of my birth. Thousands of wildebeest have again joined me in our grand herd. Thousands more calves will be born soon, hundreds have already entered the world, ready to join us for the next migration. The grasses when we arrived were just as expected, green and lush. I wish we could stay forever, but I know if these grasses are to continue growing, we must leave them to grow and feast elsewhere. We are in that state of permanent migration, only now I have the experience that I did not have back then. And now, even more amazingly, I can now pass on my knowledge to other calves just born. It’s wonderful, even as we prepare to return north on another leg of the migration, that I am now the elders I revered as a calf. Much like the migration is a cycle, so too am I now a part of that amazing world.

Flying High: Celebrating World Migratory Bird Day

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas — bird migration season! It’s the time of year when birds who left Michigan during the winter months to find refuge in warmer states make their triumphant return. Look outside, and you are likely to see robins, Canada geese and sandhill cranes among the birds flying in the spring Michigan skies, happy to be back after a cold winter away.

American robin, Jennifer Harte

While everyone at the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) celebrates these birds every day, we are encouraging the public to join us in celebrating and raising awareness around the conservation of local species on World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) May 14.

WMBD, formerly International Migratory Bird Day, is an annual campaign highlighting the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats. Through a collaboration of festivals and events from partners across the globe, WMBD brings awareness to the threats migratory birds face, as well as the birds’ ecological importance and the need for bird conservation.

Sandhill crane, Patti Truesdell

While all aspects of bird conservation are important, this year the organizations behind WMBD are focusing on fighting light pollution and harm it can cause to migratory birds.

Light pollution, or the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light, affects our world in numerous ways, from limiting our view of the night sky to disrupting human sleep patterns. However, light pollution’s most devastating impacts are felt by wildlife — and migratory birds are no exception.

Most birds migrate at night due to the calm skies and lack of predators. These birds use the moon and stars to guide their way — a system that has worked for eons. However, with light pollution encroaching further and further along the night sky (at a rate of increase of at least 2 percent per year, according to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Institute), migratory birds’ journeys are becoming increasingly dangerous. Read our recent blog post to learn more about light pollution and how to mitigate its effects on local wildlife.

When artificial lights from nearby cities enter the night sky, migrating birds can become distracted and veer off course into threatening territory. When distracted by light pollution, birds become more likely to land in dangerous areas, where they are prone to collisions and vulnerable to unfamiliar predators.

One of the biggest dangers presented to birds drawn into urban areas impacted by light pollution is needlessly illuminated office buildings. According to the International Dark Sky Association, millions of birds in the United States die each year by colliding with empty office buildings and towers that are lit up at night. Additionally, light pollution impacts migration patterns, confusing and disrupting mating and feeding schedules.

Canada geese returning to summer in Michigan.

All of this information paints a bleak portrait for the future of the feathered fowl who migrate across the U.S., but don’t lose hope! There are things each and every one of us can do to help local birds travel safely.

• First, turn off your lights at night. Unused lights, particular in unused office buildings, present a great danger to traveling fowl.

• Second, make the switch to shielded outdoor lighting. Outdoor lighting should be shielded and directed downward, where it can illuminate the ground rather than contaminate the night sky.

• Third, research and follow bird-safe habits that help reduce the hazards birds face during the migration process. In addition to turning lights off at night, these practices can include installing screens, decorative window film or window art to help prevent birds from hitting glass; moving feeders as close to windows as possible and bleaching bird feeders once a month; and practicing green gardening by growing native plants and avoiding insecticides.

Window decals can be added to increase visibility and reduce bird-strike.

The DZS has long been a supporter and practitioner of bird-safe initiatives. In 2017, we made it official by partnering with the Metro Detroit Nature Network, now known as SEMI Wild, which signed the Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds, designating Metro Detroit an Urban Bird Treaty area. Among other things, the treaty promotes bird conservation through Lights Out programs. Now, five years later, we are proud to promote these Lights Out programs, which encourage organizations and individuals to turn off or reduce interior and exterior lights during spring and fall migration, in honor of WMBD.

While there is much to be done to provide our feathered friends with safe travels this migration season, know that you can play a part by turning off one light at a time.

Bonnie Van Dam is the curator of birds for the Detroit Zoological Society.