The idea for a rehab center on Northerly Island started gaining momentum in 2003, shortly after Meigs Field was abruptly closed. The area falls along a migratory flyway used by more than 300 species of birds. One survey by the Field Museum suggests the annual death toll reaches into the thousands.I interviewed Robbie Hunsinger earlier this year for an article on her organization, Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, and she said the survival rate of birds who are picked up and treated is extremely high. This is good news as our city gets millions of birds, a meaningful portion of which are rare or endangered, flying overhead every year.
Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy and Grant Park Advisory Council, heard about the statistics and started talking with conservationists about how to save injured birds. In April 2004 he organized a symposium with architects, birders, scientists, biologists and members of the Chicago Ornithological Society to brainstorm. Then he started lobbying anyone in government who would listen.
Last winter officials at the Park District started listening.
"They said, `You're right, we could use this at Northerly Island,'" O'Neill recalled. "It's right on the flyway. It's perfect."
So far, district officials have promised to give wildlife specialists one or two of five small rooms that line a long hallway near the terminal entrance, said Jim Chronis, the district's chief operating officer.
The site is temporary until planners decide the layout of the preserve, but conservationists say they hope that once the center is functioning, it will be given space in the new design.
The two rooms would provide enough space to set up a reception area, where birds could be evaluated, registered and weighed, and to segregate injured songbirds from the bigger birds of prey, said Dawn Keller, a wildlife rehabilitation specialist at the Flint Creek Wildlife Center in Barrington.
Keller, who will operate the Northerly Island facility once it opens, hopes to secure all five of the small rooms so that rehabbers can create a mini-hospital of sorts, with three bird sanctuaries, an X-ray room and space for emergency surgery.
"We could really become a premier city for bird rehabilitation," Keller said.
Previously, the injured birds, which get confused and crash into our skyscrapers, had to be driven to the suburbs! Which, if you think about it, suggests how we have historically thought about cities vs. suburbs. All the nature's out there, not here in the city. Our dead birds are changing that thinking.