Nearly 1,000 birds flew to their deaths this past Thursday in Chicago after crashing into a lakeside convention center. Approximately 961 birds were found dead outside the mostly glass-clad McCormick Place Lakeside Center.
Reports indicate the deaths were likely a result of the convention center’s bright lights and poor weather. The combination of the two confused the birds, which flew into the facility’s nearly all-glass exterior. Studies show lights on buildings in migratory flight paths confuse birds’ navigation systems. As a result, birds will circle buildings repeatedly and die of exhaustion or collision.
“I’ve been in Chicago for 40 years and bird-watch all the time, and I’ve never seen anything like that,” Douglas Stotz, senior conservation ecologist at the Field Museum of Natural History, told The New York Times.
Stotz added the previous record death total at the convention center numbered 200. He said rain and warm weather stalled the birds’ migration south. When the weather cleared, they flew to the city in mass, leading to a perfect storm at McCormick Place.
The convention center has long been known to be a death trap for birds. Since the early 1980s, more than 42,000 birds have been found dead after they collided with its windows. There have been discussions to retrofit the windows with patterned screening, but high costs have been a deterrent, reported the Chicago Sun Times in 2022.
Annette Prince, director of the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, told Insider that McCormick Place occasionally keeps its lights on throughout the evening, which drew in the birds. She said that given the center’s location off the lake, it’s “the first encounter on the lake that birds can run into.”
McCormick Place issued a statement claiming its lights are turned off unless workers and visitors are onsite. However, there was an event during the week of the bird strikes, so the lights were sometimes on. McCormick Place stated it is “truly saddened by the incident” and does what it can to protect birds, including participating in the Lights Out Chicago program and maintaining a six-acre bird sanctuary.
The Lights Out Chicago program, established in 1995, encourages occupants of tall buildings to turn off or dim their decorative lights. The goal is to reduce the total light emitted from the building from 11 p.m. until sunrise during migratory seasons (mid-March to early June and late August to mid-November).
Illinois is well acquainted with bird deaths as a result of glass collisions. The state passed the Bird-Safe Buildings Act in 2021, which requires bird-friendly designs to be incorporated into the construction and renovation of state-owned buildings. The designs include screens and shutters to be incorporated into the building, along with various types of glass, including opaque, etched, stained, frosted, ultraviolet patterned or translucent glass. Chicago has held off on implementing a 2020 ordinance that would give greater weight to bird protection measures when evaluating whether new projects meet the city’s sustainable development requirements.
More than eight million birds migrate through Chicago. Many birds killed by Chicago buildings are small migrants from the tropics–warblers, thrushes, and tanagers, among others. Reports indicate most of the birds killed on Thursday were tiny warblers.
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