Radar studies on bird migration assume that the transmitted electromagnetic pulses do not alter the behaviour of the birds, in spite of some worrying reports of observed disturbance. This paper shows that, in the case of the X-band radar ‘Superfledermaus’, no relevant changes in flight behaviour occurred, while a strong light beam provoked important changes. Large sets of routine recordings of nocturnal bird migrants obtained using an X-band tracking radar provided no indication of differing flight behaviour between birds flying at low levels towards the radar, away from it or passing it sideways. Switching the radar transmission on and off, while continuing to track selected bird targets using a passive infrared camera during the switch-off phases of the radar, showed no difference in the birds' behaviour with and without incident radar waves. Tracking single nocturnal migrants while switching on and off a strong searchlight mounted parallel to the radar antenna, however, induced pronounced reactions by the birds: (1) a wide variation of directional shifts averaging 8 degrees in the first and 15 degrees in the third 10 s interval after switch-on; (2) a mean reduction in flight speed of 2–3 m s-1 (15–30 % of normal air speed); and (3) a slight increase in climbing rate. A calculated index of change declined with distance from the source, suggesting zero reaction beyond approximately 1 km. These results revive existing ideas of using light beams on aircraft to prevent bird strikes and provide arguments against the increasing use of light beams for advertising purposes.