Nearly 1,000 songbirds making their annual voyage for warmer weather were killed in a single night after crashing into the same building on Chicago’s waterfront.
The horrifying carnage was laid bare Thursday morning — with dead and injured birds blanketing the street surrounding the McCormick Place Lakeside Center.
“It was just like a carpet of dead birds at the windows there,” David Willard, a retired bird division collections manager at the Chicago Field Museum told the Associated Press.
Willard checks the grounds of Chicago’s lakefront exhibition center during migration season for dead birds.
“A normal night would be zero to 15 (dead) birds. It was just kind of a shocking outlier to what we’ve experienced … In 40 years of keeping track of what’s happening at McCormick, we’ve never seen anything remotely on that scale.”
Avian experts collected 964 dead birds across 33 species, mostly warblers, along with an estimated 80 stunned live ones, according to the National Audubon Society, a bird activist organization.
The tragic event appears to be a combination of high-intensity migration, adverse weather conditions for flying, and the bright lights emitted from the 583,000-square-foot glass McCormick Place.
Pre-dawn rain likely forced the hordes of migrating birds to drop to lower altitudes, where they were enchanted by the lights illuminated along the waterfront they were following.
The man-made lights both attract and confuse birds that migrate at night — like sparrows and warblers — which use the stars to navigate.
If they don’t fly directly into the building, they tend to fly around the lights until they die from exhaustion, a phenomenon known as fatal light attraction.
McCormick Place is a notorious strike zone, according to experts, and Chicago was listed by Cornell University in 2019 as one of the most dangerous cities for migrating birds.
Before this week, the worst collision numbers he’d witnessed at McCormick Place were around 200.
“You pick up a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and realize, if it hadn’t been for a building in Chicago, it would be spending its winter in the foothills of the Andes,” Willard told Audubon.
“It’s just a shame that a city can’t be less of an obstacle.”
As many as 988 million birds are killed each year in window strikes across the US, according to a 2014 study by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service.
Humans can easily diminish the annual tragedies by adding screens, painting their windows or applying decals to the glass — or simply turning off their lights at night.