Autumn, in Michigan, marks the time of year when hundreds of millions of birds are crossing over the state in their migration south. Many of the birds are traveling as far south as southern Mexico. 

According to the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, it’s Michigan’s peninsulas in the Great Lakes that cause migratory creatures to travel along the coast, looking for shortcuts across the lakes as they fly south. Unfortunately, Chicago is waiting for them, on the other side of Lake Michigan, with open arms and a specter of death. 

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A Single Chicago Building Has Massacred Hundreds of Birds 

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has somber news. A single building, in Chicago, was responsible for the deaths of nearly a thousand migratory songbirds in early October. And it only took one night. 

The McCormick Place Lakeside Center sits on the western shore of Lake Michigan. It isn’t a tall building, only three levels with the legendary Arie Crown Theater on level one.  The American Bird Conservancy claims that it was during the night and morning of October 4-5 when the birds met their fate during the height of their annual fall migration. So, if height isn’t the problem for the death toll, just what is? 

McCormick Place in Chicago Is Responsible For Hundreds of Bird Deaths

USACE Chicago District prepared to respond to COVID-19
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via Wikimedia Commons

The Problem and The Cure 

McCormick Place is a building that is made mostly of glass and is brightly lit in the evening, and it seems to attract birds. Unfortunately, the building owners have failed to treat the glass with products to prevent bird collisions. The American Bird Conservancy claims, 

Conservationists have long voiced concerns over McCormick Place as a danger to birds due to its position along Lake Michigan's lakefront where a lot of birds travel. Though not a tall structure, the building is made mostly of glass that has not been treated with products recommended by ABC to prevent bird collisions. Solutions are available, but building management and the city of Chicago have yet to act. 

The Chicago City Council passed an ordinance, in 2020, requiring all new buildings to be designed with bird-safe features. McCormick Place first opened in 1912 and has seen renovations over the years but doesn’t fall into the newly adopted guidelines. 

Chicago isn’t the only evil in the path of migrating birds. Light pollution, in general, is a problem. But there is good news. The MDNR says, 

With artificial light at night and reflective surfaces as the main causes of bird deaths, bird collisions are preventable. A 2021 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America discovered that by turning off half the lights in Chicago during bird migration, 60 percent fewer birds would die. 

The Audubon Society is asking building owners, managers, and homeowners to turn off excess lighting during bird migration months to help ensure safe passage between nesting and wintering grounds. 

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Gallery Credit: Lacy James

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