Forty years and 70,000 bodies tell the grim tale of why some night-flying birds might crash into buildings more often than others.
Had there not been bodies, David Willard might never have returned.
But on an early morning in September of 1978, Willard, an ornithologist at Chicago’s Field Museum, was dismayed to find his suspicions confirmed: Speckling the pavement outside the McCormick Place convention center were the corpses of several small birds. En route to their southern homes, they’d met their ends the night before, colliding with the glass windows of the lakeside low-rise after flitting toward its unnatural glow.
The trip to McCormick Place was an unusual detour for Willard, who had stopped by on his way to work after hearing that the brightly lit building was taking out feathered flyers in droves. But in the months and years that followed, Willard found himself retracing his steps around the convention center over and over again, gathering the injured and dead.
Some days, there were none. On others, after nights of buffeting winds, the bodies numbered close to 200. All, it seemed, had gravitated toward the convention center’s artificial lights. But over time, it became clear that not all birds were represented equally. Several species of sparrows, warblers, and thrushes—grimly known in birding circles as “super colliders”—were particularly abundant among the fallen.