Before I moved to Chicago last year, I said goodbye to the birds on the shores of Seattle’s Union Bay. Chicago is so large that I figured I’d be fortunate to see more than pigeons in-between skyscrapers. Sometimes it’s good to be wrong. 

I’ve spotted "life birds" – species I’ve never before seen – in Chicago backyards, parks and natural areas. So why can I find a Henslow’s sparrow in a Northside neighborhood, or see great horned owls and northern harriers over Northerly Island? We may not realize it, but the Midwest is part of a major, millenniums-old migratory corridor called the Mississippi Flyway. Today’s migratory birds face a multitude of challenges on their transcontinental trip, from severe storms and hungry cats to bright city lights and vanishing habitat.

What’s the connection between an aquarium and wild birds? Through Shedd's Great Lakes program, we work to promote healthy lakes and freshwater ecosystems, both of which are crucial for migratory birds, which rely on Chicago-area waterways for food and shelter. Our horticultural staff maintains Shedd’s gardens with natural yard-care techniques; the birds in our gardens won’t be exposed to chemical pesticides or fertilizers as they forage for buggy snacks. Finally, like so many Chicago buildings, Shedd turns off its lights to keep migratory species from colliding with our windows during their night flights.

No matter where you live, you can join Shedd to protect migratory birds!

1. Dim your exterior lights and keep window blinds drawn at night. Birds don’t "see" glass, so they may try to fly straight through your house – and crash into your window instead.

2. If you have a yard, garden, or even a container plant, you can use organic gardening methods. Compost tea makes a great soil additive, and Shedd’s worm brochure can help you get started making your own rich loam.

3. Native flowers, trees and shrubs provide important nutrition and shelter not only for migratory birds but also for year-round residents.

4. Join the countless buildings that take part in Lights Out Chicago during migration season.

5. Please consider keeping your cat indoors. It will live longer, and the birds will thank you.

By taking these easy actions, we can make sure Chicago continues to be a welcoming place for migratory birds, whether they’re just passing through or staying the summer. 

Posted by Meg Matthews, conservation