EcoMyths: Can birds navigate around buildings? | WBEZ
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EcoMyths: Can birds navigate around buildings?

Chicago pigeons in front of the Merchandise Mart. (Flickr/akeg)

It’s the middle of May, and that means we are in the teeth of bird migration season. In fact, International Bird Migration Day just took place over the weekend, celebrated by bird watchers the world over. But there’s a challenge that looms large for migratory birds, and not surprisingly perhaps, it’s put there by us humans.

According to experts we talked to, between 100 million and 1 billion birds die in North America every year due to building collisions, mostly in the fall and spring. (This number doesn’t even include collisions with wind turbines or communication towers.)

You’d think birds could just fly around buildings; you’d be wrong. As its name suggests, the website EcoMyths busts environmental untruths, like the one that suggests migratory birds know how to navigate their way through a city. For numerous reasons, navigating flight through a place like Chicago is far more dangerous for birds than flying through dense woodlands.

The Misconception:
Migrating birds know to fly around city buildings.

The Reality:
Navigating city buildings is far more challenging for birds than flying through dense woodlands, because:

A) Birds can't see glass and see it as an opening

B) Nocturnal migrants get confused by lights

C) Migrant birds aren't used to urban landscape, having spent the previous season in open areas and rainforests in South and Central America

EcoMyths founder Kate Sackman joins us Tuesday for Worldview's monthly myth-busting segment. They talk about saving and studying birds in harm's way with Field Museum Ornithologist and Ecologist Doug Stotz and Annette Prince of Chicago Bird Collision Monitors.

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