Crippled Planes

Here’s another reason I volunteer at Midewin. Every year, thousands of migrating birds die by crashing into downtown Chicago buildings. I found this American woodcock today in a planter on Michigan Avenue near Randolph.

110304 woodcock

Every spring and fall, thousands of migrating birds collide with downtown buildings, confused by their bright lights; this in spite of a fairly successful Lights Out, Chicago! campaign, by which building owners voluntarily turn out or dim their lights during spring and fall migration season (http://lightsout.audubon.org/lightsout_home.php.)

And there’s also a dedicated band of volunteers who patrol the streets of Chicago pre-dawn to rescue migrating birds that have crashed into buildings over night (http://www.birdmonitors.net/intro.html.)

I applaud these efforts. I’ve even helped rescue wounded birds one spring season. But if our birds are to survive long-term, they need more than triage and minimized dangers. They must have large, healthy habitats in which to rest and feed and rear their young. I’ve yet to see an American woodcock at Midewin, but others have. I look forward to what Aldo Leopold describes as their “sky dance:”

In late April/early May, At daybreak and dusk, the male “flies in low and at once begins…a series of queer throaty peents. Suddenly the peenting ceases and the bird flutters skyward in a series of wide spirals, emitting a musical twitter. Up and up he goes, the spirals steeper and smaller, the twittering louder and louder, until the performer is only a speck in the sky. Then, without warning, he tumbles like a crippled plane, giving voice in a soft liquid warble that a March bluebird might envy. At a few feet from the ground he levels off and returns to his peenting sound.”

Were he alive and writing today, Leopold certainly would have chosen a different metaphor to describe the descent of a woodcock attempting to impress a mate. Describing anything as tumbling out of the sky like a “crippled plane” in a post-911 world is dicey, even if so many woodcocks and other migrating birds literally do so given the exponential increase in the number and height of skyscrapers over the past 60 years.

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