Thank you to my friend and collaborator, Brandon Ballengée, for introducing me to Collin van der Slujis. Collin was seeking information on endangered/threatened Chicago birds for his upcoming mural in Chicago located on a 9 story building on 1006 S. Michigan Avenue. Brandon suggested that we work together. Thank you to Collin for creating an inspiring mural and for the wonderful experience of getting to know him and his work!
I personally never knew how many incredible birds were migrating through Chicago until I did Migratory Bird Building Strike Rescue + Recovery a few years ago. On 15 May 2013 a male Northern Parula that my trainer and I rescued from a building collision on Wacker Drive was treated and released later that day. That little bird (approx 4.5 in long, 0.2–0.4 oz) was able to survive and to hopefully breed. Some of the birds that migrate to and through Chicago travel from as far away as South America, but can continue to migrate all the way up to the Arctic Circle (and back - every Spring and Fall)! The experience became the catalyst for a whole body work exploring their beauty and patterning (bird who loves birds). This is perhaps a backwards way to start birding...but I'm so grateful to be a part of their journey. I started my research for Collin by reviewing articles and looking at my own existing fieldwork. I also asked expert birders for their feedback on endangered/threatened birds and requested accounts of successful rebounds of Chicago birds.
Geoffrey Williamson: “Two more that come to mind that once were common in the Chicago area: Passenger Pigeon (now extinct) + the Greater Prairie-Chicken (gone from Chicago and hanging on by a thread in Illinois in part only because we supplement the birds here with individuals transported from Kansas). Some others: Yellow-headed Blackbird + Black Tern. We are on the eastern edge of the blackbirds range, but habitat loss is pushing them out. They nested not very long ago in southeast Chicago. Black Terns are in trouble everywhere. They too used to nest in Chicago. The same can be said for King Rail. All three are on the state endangered species list. The last three of these used to nest in the Lake Calumet area. The blackbird and the tern were still nesting in the Calumet area when I (started birding here but that ended quickly for the tern. When I started birding here (1990) the Calumet region was so full of birds, but the old timers told me how impoverished it was compared to the "old days." Now to me it is so impoverished compared to when I got here, when it was already impoverished.”
Collins powerful mural tells the story of a bird that was once common, but has now disappeared from Chicago, the Yellow-headed Blackbird. His piece also highlights that the Red-headed Woodpecker is in need of conservation too - before it disappears from Chicago. In recent years the numbers for Red-headed Woodpeckers have been better, especially in surrounding counties, which is promising. Ultimately, Collin’s mural is very much about hope – “From Doom to Boom”. Through conservation we can turn things around. Look at the success of the Peregrine Falcon in Chicago. Overall - there are record numbers of Peregrines in Illinois, which is amazing considering there were "no Peregrines by the 1960's because the species had been extirpated (wiped out regionally)". Sadly though, we must never forget one of the most cautionary tales of extinction - the Passenger Pigeon. At the time the Passenger Pigeon was the most most abundant bird in North America. It went extinct within 100 years.
Street art embraces social equality through visual communication that encourages connection and inspiration on many levels. The beauty of Collins mural is that it is accessible to anyone and everyone. And if you look up and around, especially during migration, there are also many different species of birds among us too. These birds are are connected to us through the web of life - bringing joy, beauty and wonder...but they need our help.
Big thank you's to: Geoffrey Williamson, Steve Huggins, Carl Giacometti, Josh Engel + John Bates from the bird department at The Field Museum for showing us their collection, Geoff Hoffman and Brandon Ballengée!