Chicago volunteers pitch in to help migratory birds get safe passage this spring

Spring means a return of Chicago’s wildlife and millions of birds are migrating through the city.

Some humans are trying to make it a safer flight for the birds.

Maybe you’ve seen them. The people with nets, cautiously inspecting around the city’s skyscrapers. The Chicago Bird Collision Monitors volunteers rescue injured birds every morning before sunrise.

Kathleen Gillespie is a volunteer with Chicago Bird Collision Monitors. 

"Birds are drawn to the light. So they come in at night, leaving their migrating route. They're flying from the southern reaches of their habitat in the winter, they're coming north to breed. They come into the city and they're here at night, so we're here as early as we can. They start getting up early and they're foraging for food, but they're also crashing into the windows," Gillespie said. 

Last year, a thousand migrating birds died when they flew into the windows of McCormick Place. Steps were taken to reduce collisions, including closing drapes and turning off nonessential lights.

"Chicago is the deadliest city in North America for birds if they're migrating," Gillespie said.

As Gillespie described the work, a blue jay was attacked by a seagull. She swooped in, placing a net over the wounded bird, capturing it with her bare hand, and placing it in a bag for transport to the Willowbrook Wildlife Center.

In one morning, the team rescued 12 live birds and collected a few dead ones. The dead birds are given to the Field Museum for research.

The website, "Birdcast" forecasts thousands of birds will pass through Cook County every night during migration. Bird Collision Monitors take about 3000 birds to wildlife centers each year.

Diane McKeever is training to volunteer. 

"I love birds and I want to do a little bit to help them. They're declining, so every little bit helps to keep the bird populations up," McKeever said.

Volunteer Eric Jensen said he is a bit of a "birder." 

"I just think it's a life-affirming thing a person can do," Jensen said.

The blue jay Gillespie rescued was taken for a medical checkup. Bird Collision Monitors don’t get to learn the outcome of every bird. This one likely was released, far from downtown, to continue its migration.