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Chicago doesn’t have enough plans to protect migratory birds, advocates say

Annette Prince peered between the gleaming buildings downtown: “There’s a bird in that grille.”

Sure enough, sitting very still in the rain was a tiny white-throated sparrow, so soaked you could barely make out its canary yellow facial markings. The bird was too dazed to move; an easy target for the hungry seagulls that patrolled the area.

Prince looked up at the nearest skyscraper, with its rows of dark windows.

“He probably hit the glass up there and fell,” she said.

A long-awaited policy update from the city of Chicago should help prevent such injuries and deaths, which occur by the thousands each year when migratory birds crash into local buildings.

But bird safety advocates in Chicago say they are disappointed that the city’s policy update, now in draft form, does not mandate bird safety measures.

Instead, anti-collision measures, such as installing glass with small markings, are included in a menu of sustainable design options from which developers working on affected projects can choose.

“We don’t think this is enough,” said Prince, president of Bird Friendly Chicago, a coalition of local bird and conservation groups that has been advocating for bird-safe building measures since 2016.

“(These measures) are not just bonuses – they are essential for protecting valuable bird life and a healthy environment, where these birds are fundamental. They are good for people. They are good for birds,” she said.

Deputy Commissioner Peter Strazzabosco of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development pointed out that the proposed policy update, which is available for public comment until May 15, gives additional weight to bird-safe building options.

Director of the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors Annette Prince holds a sora rail found by another volunteer as they patrol the downtown area collecting dead and injured birds on April 29, 2024. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)
Director of Chicago Bird Collision Monitors Annette Prince holds a sora rail found by another volunteer as they patrol the downtown area collecting dead and injured birds on April 29, 2024. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

According to the update, one category of bird safety measures would receive 30 points, compared to just 10 points under the current policy.

Those points count toward the 100 points that certain new buildings and renovations must earn – by choosing from a list of sustainability options – if developers want city permission to build.