Employees arrived for work at the American National Insurance building in Galveston to encounter a soul-crushing scene: nearly 400 dead or dying warblers and orioles.
The migrating birds had crashed into the downtown 23-story building — the highest in the city — after flying move than 600 miles across the Gulf of Mexico. They were heading toward their nesting grounds in several different areas farther north. The group included some 25 species, mostly brightly colored yellow and orange Nashville and Blackburnian warblers, but there were also redstarts, ovenbirds and orioles.
“This is the largest event like this I have ever been a part of in over 10 years,” Galveston Police animal services supervisor Josh Henderson told the Houston Chronicle.
Bird experts believe the Wednesday night tragedy was likely caused by a combination of high winds and the building’s bright lights which can often disorient a flock that scientists speculate may interpret the light as moonlight or the sun. The birds were also flying lower than usual because of the winds. It wasn’t clear if the birds were all flying together when they crashed into the building, or if the deaths occurred in smaller, separate groups.
The bodies will be sent to university labs where researchers will check health, size and DNA.
Only three birds survived and 395 died. The survivors were taken to a wildlife rehab center to recover.
Sarah Flournoy of the Houston Audubon Society said a simple fix would be for office buildings to turn off their lights at night, when birds usually migrate — at least during migration season. Homeowners are encouraged to close curtains or mark windows with decals.