McCormick Place Lakeside Center to shut off or dim lights to protect migrating birds

By Chicago 6 Min Read

The management for the McCormick Place Lakeside Center has agreed to shut off the lights or draw the drapes at night to help prevent migratory birds from colliding into the building’s glass windows.

The center will do so every night until the end of the fall migration on Nov. 15. The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which operates the building, is also exploring longer-term protections to deter birds from approaching the Lakeside Center.

A petition to require the lights to be shut off at night has reached over 10,000 signatures and will be presented at the authority’s board meeting on Monday.

Earlier this month, nearly 1,000 birds were killed in one night after crashing into the lakefront glass building during the height of the fall migration.

“We demand that the Governor of Illinois, the Mayor of Chicago and those managing the McCormick Place Lakeside facility take immediate and urgent action to require that interior lights at McCormick Place East be extinguished or shades drawn every night of migration,” the petition reads.

While most of the signatures on the petition are from Chicago-area and Illinois residents, people from across the country have signed on, calling for the building’s management to shut off the lights at night. The petition was started by Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, Chicago Bird Alliance (formerly the Chicago Audubon Society) and Chicago Ornithological Society.

“It’s wonderful to see how many people care about this issue and want to have their voices heard,” said Annette Prince, director of Chicago Bird Collision Monitors.

While they work toward a permanent deterrent, the agency has guaranteed it will shut off the Lakeside Center’s lights or draw the drapes at night until the end of the fall migration on next month, Prince said.

  • About 1,000 birds killed after colliding into McCormick Place Lakeside Center in one ‘tragic,’ deadly night

In this image provided by the Chicago Field Museum, workers at the Chicago Field Museum inspect the bodies of migrating birds, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023, in Chicago, that were killed when they flew into the windows of the McCormick Place Lakeside Center, a Chicago exhibition hall, the night of Oct. 4-5, 2023. According to the Chicago Audubon Society, nearly 1,000 birds migrating south during the night grew confused by the exhibition center’s lights and collided with the building.

Field Museum workers inspect dead birds.

The Field Museum via AP

Matt Igleski, executive director of the Chicago Bird Alliance, said his organization, Prince and the Chicago Ornithological Society recently met with management for the Lakeside Center.

MPEA is considering a variety of options to make the building safer, including window treatments, external barriers and mechanized blinds, Prince said.

“They seemed motivated and said they were making it a priority to do something,” Igleski said. “We understand it’s a process and it will take time. But we’re glad that they seem to be taking it seriously.”

Igleski and Prince said they hope the Lakeside Center is bird-proofed in time for spring migration in March.

MPEA’s leadership is exploring immediate and long-term solutions and is working on renovating the Lakeside Center to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly, a spokesperson said.

“We are aware of the petition. [it] is a concern we share, and we are deeply committed to preserving the well-being of migratory birds,” the statement reads. “McCormick Place has taken numerous steps over the years to reduce bird collisions, such as maintaining the six-acre McCormick Bird Sanctuary along the lakefront, and participating in the Lights Out Chicago program, which has decreased bird collisions on campus by 80%.”

All lights are turned off at McCormick Place whenever the buildings are not in use by staff, visitors and clients, the spokesperson said.

The number of birds that died at the Lakeside Center is an alarming part of a larger danger facing migrating birds, bird conservation advocates told the Sun-Times.

This is one of the busiest times of year for palm warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, white-throated sparrows and other birds passing through Chicago on their way south for the winter.

“The tragic death of nearly a thousand birds at the McCormick Lakeside facility on October 5 is a strong wakeup call about the potential for mass casualties if lights are not extinguished,” the petition reads. “McCormick Place has been told many times that simply requiring their exhibitors to draw curtains or turn off lights at the end of the day would prevent 80% of bird deaths.”

The McCormick Place Lakeside Center is one of the easternmost structures along the lakefront and is made mostly of glass. And even though it’s not a tall structure, its position along the lake, where a lot of birds travel, is particularly dangerous, advocates said.

“This is an expense for McCormick Place, but they have been needing to do this for years. It’s been long overdue for decades,” Prince said.

Birds rely on the moon and stars to travel, and bright lights from glass structures at night throw off their navigation. Pulled toward the light, they often can’t perceive the glass and think they can fly straight through. The reflection from the glass can also be disorienting.

A second petition urging the Chicago City Council to require lights be shut off at all Chicago buildings during migration periods has over 47,000 signatures.

“Internationally, people are paying attention and caring about this,” Prince said, “and they’re encouraging Chicago to take a lead, especially given that the city poses the greatest threat to migratory birds in North America.”

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