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bird standing on grass

A bird stands on grass near the McCormick Place Lakeside Center on Oct. 6, 2023. Nearly 1,000 birds struck the windows of the building on Oct. 5, according to The Field Museum, as they migrated for the season. Bird advocates are pushing for “bird-safe windows.”

Pat Nabong

Advocates say a Chicago policy update to protect migrating birds doesn’t go far enough

This time of year, millions of birds cross Illinois each night on their spring migration north. Many will hit the windows of Chicago’s skyline. Reporter: Lauren Frost; Host: Melba Lara

This time of year, millions of birds cross Illinois each night in their spring migration north — but some will never reach their destination. Instead, they’ll hit the windows of the Chicago skyline.

The city of Chicago is updating its policy for sustainable building development to help prevent these collisions. But some advocates say it’s not enough. Nara Schoenberg, who reported on this for the Chicago Tribune, recently joined WBEZ to discuss the policy.

The city’s updated sustainable development policy is currently in draft form, and it’s available for public comment until May 15. But can you tell us what it says about bird-friendly design?

Schoenberg: Yes, this is a policy that requires some developers to choose from a menu of sustainable design options — things like energy efficiency — and the menu items are awarded points. You need a certain number of points to get permission to build or renovate. So now we have the policy update, the first since 2017, and it says that you can get more points for choosing bird-safety menu options [such as] pattern glass that prevent birds from crashing into buildings.

You actually talked to Annette Prince, who is the chair of the Bird Friendly Chicago Coalition, and she was a little disappointed with the draft policy. How come?

She and other bird advocates say it’s not enough to make bird safety an option on a menu when thousands of migrating birds are dying each year in Chicago. They want requirements. They also say that when bird safety is just one of many menu options, developers are unlikely to choose it. They’ll go with something more familiar.

Can you tell us how the city has responded to these concerns?

The city says, ‘Look, the bird-safety measures are getting a lot more points under the new policy. In one case, three times as many points.’ They also say that a policy like this isn’t really the right place for a bird-safety design requirement. That would better be done, they say, with an ordinance, a local law with a City Council vote behind it.

This issue came to a lot of people’s attention last fall when more than 900 birds died in one day after they crashed into McCormick Place Lakeside. Are the owners of that building taking any action to prevent collisions in the future?

I did talk to McCormick Place Lakeside and they said they acted really quickly, reached out to experts and they now have a plan in place to install $1.2 million of bird-safe glass. They’re hoping to do that by the fall migration season. Of course, it’s not just the McCormick Place Lakeside; this is a citywide problem.

Lots of cities have migrating birds. How do we compare to them?

We’re sort of in the middle. Some cities, including New York, San Francisco, Skokie and Evanston, are leaders. They have ordinances requiring at least some bird-safety design. We don’t have that at this point.

Lauren Frost is WBEZ’s afternoon news producer. Follow her @frostlaur.

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