Birds Killed By Skyscrapers: An Oddly Life-Affirming Photo Essay

Artist Lynne Parks examines the toll urban light pollution takes on migrating birds.

Nine years ago, artist Lynne Parks got into birdwatching. The Baltimore-based artist, who has suffered from cancer since childhood, found something life-affirming in the birds’ energy. She soon joined a local birdwatching club, and began learning to identify the songs of migrating thrushes and warblers who move through Baltimore on their way to their wintering and breeding grounds in the fall and spring.


A darker aspect of birdwatching inspired Parks’ series Lights Out Baltimore, Downtown Fatalities, which documents the toll light pollution takes on these migrating birds. Songbirds use the constellations to guide them as they migrate at night, and bright cities can confuse them. Drawn to the artificial lights, birds become disoriented and can crash into buildings. Some, unable to navigate out of the light, will fly in circles until they succumb to exhaustion and drop to the ground.

The photo series depicts a selection of the dead birds that Parks helped collect for inventory as a volunteer for Lights Out Baltimore, a group of birdwatchers dedicated to making the city safe for migrating birds. In the wee hours of the morning in the spring of 2012, Parks helped collect birds that had been injured or killed by skyscrapers. Though an estimated 100 million to 1 billion North American birds are killed each year by the glass in windows and skyscrapers, Parks wanted to show more than statistics. “I wanted to emphasize the individual,” she told Co.Design by email. “It’s heartbreaking to hold a dying bird in your hand.  In my work, I want to honor them as well as inform about the issue.”

The birds needed to be kept frozen before being taken to a research center for study, giving Parks only a few moments to photograph each subject.* She hopes her photographs will inspire more bird-friendly designs on buildings, like UV-reflecting glass.

The series will be on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art between February 26 and April 6.

*This post originally stated that the birds were immediately taken to research centers after Parks photographed them. It has been updated for clarification.

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.