5 Ways to Help Birds During Spring Migration

May 15, 2024

Spring migration is at its peak right now! More than 250 species, around 8 million individuals, travel through the city of Chicago during this season. Through mid-June, masses of migratory birds are returning from their warmer, southern winter homes to more temperate habitats in the northern hemisphere where there’s more food and space.

From the smallest hummingbirds to sandhill cranes, you may experience some flighted guests near your homes and businesses, who are traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to breed and nest. Even the birds you’re used to seeing have amazing stories that span continents.

On Nature Boardwalk here at Lincoln Park Zoo, the barn swallows nesting under bridges winter as far south as Argentina, while eastern wood pewees, a species of small gray flycatcher, migrate from the Amazon and Baltimore orioles arrive from Central America. Common goldeneyes like the ones at South Lagoon, on the other hand, go north to breed in subarctic boreal forest—just south of the Arctic Circle. These animals are traveling very long distances.

black crowned night heron 2019

Along the way, they need places to rest, safe spots to sleep, and sources of food and water. Unfortunately, a 2019 study found that Chicago is the most dangerous city for migrating birds in the U.S. thanks to light pollution and geography.

If you’re looking for ways to help the birds, here are a few easy things you can do:

1. Turn Off the Lights

If you’re leaving a space, please flip that light switch on the way out! Extinguish exterior and interior lights, use motion-sensitive lighting, and use your desk lamps instead of overhead lighting at work stations. Draw curtains to prevent light from escaping your building. Most bird species migrate at night, and artificial lighting in offices and homes can disorient them to the extent that they will exhaust themselves and become more vulnerable to collisions and predators.

2. Make Windows Less Appealing

Research has shown that birds do not see glass. If birds flying by see plants inside a home, they may attempt to fly through a window to get to it. Remember, they may be in need of sustenance to fuel their long trip. Move your plants, close your blinds by at least 75% to make them more visible to birds, and use soap or stickers to cover large panes of glass (soaping outside works better). Up to 1 billion birds die each year colliding with glass in the U.S. alone.

Click here to access printable window decals you can tape to your window to help make it more visible to birds, preventing them from flying into the glass.

3. Tend Your Bird Feeders and Water Sources

Make sure your bird feeders are full—if feathered animals need a pitstop on their way to their breeding grounds, being able to grab a bite along the way can help make their migration easier. Also, make sure the feeders are regularly cleaned. This can help reduce the transmission of disease, keeping bird populations healthy. If you have a bird bath, make sure to clean it thoroughly on a regular basis.

4. Keep Pets Inside or on a Leash

Do not allow dogs off-leash, especially on Chicago beaches and state natural areas (they are not allowed there). These sites are important for shorebirds finding a place to rest on their journey north, or birds who are nesting on the ground. Free-roaming domestic cats are a danger to smaller animals, with some estimates claiming that they are responsible for the deaths up to 4 billion birds in the U.S. per year (and several billion more small mammals too).  Of course, cats are also more vulnerable to injury when they live outdoors.

5. Cultivate Your Gardens With Native Plants

When you grow plants native to your region, such as Illinois prairie, savanna, and forest species, you are supporting native pollinators, including birds. You’re nurturing the local food chain, reducing pests like mosquitos, and fostering healthy biodiversity in your community.

plants in front of peoples gas pavilion

During May and June, Chicago residents should see plenty of diversity in the birds that arrive from the south, including shorebirds, cuckoos, hummingbirds, thrushes, flycatchers, and warblers. Take a few minutes to enjoy the birds coming into the area! Find some binoculars and see what you can see. Lincoln Park Zoo is a great place to birdwatch, with 195 species (and counting!) recorded in the area.


Empty Playlist