Credit: Annette Prince

“Pigeons and starlings and sparrows don’t often hit buildings. I’ve seen a sparrow fly right toward a window, pick off a bug, and fly off in the other direction. The ones that collide with buildings are mostly small migratory birds. In Chicago, we’re on a major flyway. We get indigo buntings, American woodcocks, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, white-throated sparrows, brown creepers.

“There’s a bird called a yellow rail, and it’s tiny, about the size of an Easter chick. They’re usually hidden in swamps where you would never spot them, even if you’re a bird watcher. And yet we’ve seen them walking down Wacker. They don’t understand that standing in the street trying to decide what to do is different than standing on the sidewalk. They’re just tourists.

“Migratory birds are attracted to the bright lighting and reflecting glass of Chicago’s buildings. McCormick Place, for example, is very dangerous because it’s made of glass, it has its light on often at night, and it’s on the lakefront. A bird can hit a window at 30 miles per hour, so that’s like you going through your windshield at 30 miles per hour. People who find an injured bird sometimes ask, ‘Is it just resting?’ No. If you can pick up a bird, something’s wrong.

“We recover more than 5,000 birds a year. Sixty percent of the birds we find are dead, and 40 percent are injured. We had a busy day a couple years ago when we rescued 300 birds and picked up another 500 dead. And we know we’re finding only a certain percentage of them. Many of the birds get grabbed by predators before we find them. Rats and gulls and crows have learned to frequent areas where birds strike windows.

“Picking up a bird that’s injured mostly entails having an appropriately sized paper bag. The most important part is to clip the bag shut, so they don’t escape with an injured eye or something else that needs to be cared for. Once you get that bird in the bag, never open it. The less time you handle it, the better, because it’s freaking out that you’re holding it—that’s what a predator would be doing. Once it’s in the bag, it can’t see anybody; it thinks nobody can see it. It thinks, ‘Okay, I got away from that scary hand. I’m just gonna hang out in this bag and get over what happened.’

“After whoever finds the bird contacts us, our volunteers drive it west to a licensed rehabilitation center. We need more volunteers who work downtown and live in the western suburbs. Every time I get stuck on the Eisenhower, I think, ‘One of these people could help me move this bird.’

“At the wildlife center, the birds that recover are taken out to a forested area with good habitat. When they’re let out of the bags, they fly out and land on the trees and start foraging and hopping around. Like: ‘I’ve been in a bag, where you have you been?’ ‘I’ve been in a bag! Where have you been?'”