Life as a migrating bird has never been easy. Consider the travel itinerary of the arctic tern, which has to fly almost 50,000 miles each year as it goes back and forth between the poles. But things have gotten a lot more complicated since the development of modern cities, where as many as a billion birds can die after hitting buildings each year.
Artist Lynne Parks documented a few of these avian victims in a series of photographs taken in 2012 as she helped a local bird protection group in Baltimore. Every spring and fall, while birds migrate through the city, volunteers from Lights Out Baltimore head out in the early hours of the morning to look for birds that have been unlucky enough to run into windows or become disoriented from the bright city lights.
Those that are injured go to rescue organizations, while those that don’t make it–like the ones pictured here–go to researchers at the Smithsonian. Parks hopes that by sharing their portraits, cities will be inspired to take more action.
One step is fairly easy: Since lights often attract birds into the city, some lives can be saved just by turning down the lights at night during peak migratory season. In Baltimore, Parks notes that the recession was actually been good for birds since more building owners turned off lights at night to save money.
Better design can also help. Birds can’t see glass in the same way as humans, and when they see a reflection of the outside world or what’s inside, they just keep flying. But new products like Ornilux, a special type of glass patterned with a UV-coating that birds can see (while people can’t), can keep birds away. Architects just have to choose to use it, along with other bird-friendly interventions. City planners can also choose to site skyscrapers away from migration paths.
For Parks, the issue of saving birds is a personal one; she has battled cancer since childhood, and birds have become an important part of her life. “It’s a healing activity, and it’s grown into an environmental one as well,” Parks says. “It’s how my family bonds. I’ve been sick a long time and surviving childhood cancer and recurrences does not make a person robust. Birding is gentle exercise and these amazing, important creatures are so lively.”
They also play an important role environmentally, she says, doing everything from controlling insects and weeds to fertilizing and pollinating plants. “Bird populations are taking huge hits from habitat loss, climate change, building collisions, and cats let outside,” Parks says. “Birds are the jewels of our world and we need to adjust how we live in order to ensure their survival.”