Darkness planned to help birds

The streetlights are about to be turned off in Punakaiki for the second year running, to help protect Westland petrels.

Specialists say the birds become disoriented by bright lights while returning just on dusk to their burrows on the terrace between Barrytown and Punakaiki.

Often the birds crash land and are then unable to take off.

Last year was the first season the NZ Transport Agency turned off the LED streetlight in Punakaiki to remove the chance of disorientation due to the lighting.

Initial results showed fewer birds were found disoriented or killed by vehicles on the road.

However, more appeared to gravitate towards the brighter lights at nearby Greymouth where they were found disoriented.

The 15 lights at Punakaiki will be switched off on November 8 along a 3.4km section of State Highway 6, from Waikori Rd in the south to Bullock Creek Rd in the north.

They will go back on on January 10.

Transport agency senior network manager Colin Hey said fledglings at the Punakaiki colony began to fly from early November.

A Department of Conservation spokeswoman welcomed the news.

However, as the last fledging season was the first the lights had been turned off it was too early to accurately assess the measure’s effect compared with other seasons given other variables to be considered, such as overall petrel numbers in the colonies.

Last year, 10 birds were found crashed at Punakaiki, down from the usual 15 to 25.

However, in Greymouth, about twice the usual number were picked up — 22 compared with 10 — and for the first time they were found in the centre of town. — Greymouth Star


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