Chicago the biggest killer of migratory birds

Just watch out for that shiny Trump Tower, fellas. Photo: David Fielding/Flickr

Just watch out for that shiny Trump Tower, fellas. Photo: David Fielding/Flickr

We’ve got to face facts: We live within a killing machine.

According to a piece posted on Grist this week, our skyline kills more birds every year than any other city in the country. Much of the reason is our location on a migratory superhighway, but it’s also because we’re so sparkly and pretty. Birds en route to Canada or southern states are drawn to the city’s bright lights, then end up concussing themselves to death against our windows and buildings.

The biggest culprit is the glassy-surfaced McCormick Place right on the water’s edge. Half of the specimens in the Field Museum’s Bird Preparation Lab, which started collecting the unfortunate victims in 2004, met their end at McCormick place – that’s about 64,000 birds in total. The good news is those numbers are going down. The lab’s work is drawing attention to the issue and the city is implementing more lights-out programs, and the building’s annual death toll dropped to 400 from the 2,400 recorded in the early 90’s.

MacArthur genius and architect Jeanne Gang is even getting in on the effort, designing a habitat on 40 acres of Northerly Island to draw birds away from the dangerous skyscrapers.

In the meantime, the Field Museum’s team, led by biologist Dave Willard, have plenty of specimens to collect. The research team uses the collision victims to draw conclusions about migratory populations. For example, the team have been collecting fewer field sparrows, a species that has been on the decline. You can even get in on the effort yourself; the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors send their specimens to the Field Museum, and they accept and train volunteers. Who knew you could help restore bird species by snatching up the body of a warbler that flew head-long into your bay window?

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