Chicagoans awoke to a grisly sight last Thursday.
The outside of the McCormick Place convention center, located on the shore of Lake Michigan, was blanketed with the bodies of at least 964 migrating birds that died after hitting the building's windows overnight, officials from Chicago's Field Museum told The New York Times.
"I’ve been in Chicago for 40 years and bird-watch all the time and I’ve never, ever seen anything like that," Douglas Stotz, an ecologist at the museum, told the Times. He added that he was "blown away" by the number of birds that were migrating on one night, and said that the previous record for single-night deaths had been around 200.
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While McCormick Place is only four floors tall, experts say a combination of factors made it especially deadly for birds last week. Bad weather caused migrating birds to drop out of the clouds and move low to the ground to avoid a storm. As they approached McCormick Place, they were confused by the building's bright lights and glass windows, which birds "don’t know they can’t fly through," the Times noted. This caused them to crash into the convention center.
Millions of birds from more than 250 species migrate through Chicago every year, according to the Audubon Society, and many of them often die from hitting the city's many skyscrapers. While all U.S. cities have problems with birds striking buildings, a 2019 study ranked Chicago as the deadliest metropolis for migrating birds. The study cited Chicago's high density of illuminated skyscrapers and prime migration route as major factors in these deaths.
To try and cut down on bird deaths, the city has implemented a program called Lights Out Chicago. This initiative "encourages the owners and managers of tall buildings to turn off or dim their decorative lights," making it easier for birds to fly at night.
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