Proposed Union Station Development Poses a New Threat to Migratory Birds


Rendering of proposed Union Station development adding 330 hotel rooms and 404 residential units. Photo from NBC news.

The project: The above picture is a rendering of the proposed addition to Union Station adding 330 hotel rooms and 404 “dwelling” units. O’Donnell’s Riverside Development & Investment unveiled their development plans yesterday at a community meeting about the project. In addition, Crain’s Chicago Business reports that the developer plans to add an office tower on what is now a parking garage on the block bound by Clinton, Van Buren, Canal, and a Chicago Transit Authority bus facility.

The risk: The proposed steel and glass structure atop Union Station’s poses a new risk to migratory birds. Glass is transparent and virtually undetectable to most migratory birds that fly right into the windows by the thousands, killing or severely injuring them. Because the glass also has reflective properties, it often appears to be an extension of sky or forest to passing birds. Even people struggle with collisions with glass, and we have learned about the concept of glass and how to avoid it!

While local, non-migratory birds usually learn to avoid glass, migratory birds are only passing through, and they do not have the benefit of extensive experience with buildings with glass façades. Remember that migratory birds are passing through. They do not call urban areas their home but rather live in rainforests, open prairies, woodlands, and wetlands. They have been migrating along these same routes for tens of thousands of years, while the hazards of lights and glass came about only within the past one hundred years.

Furthermore, migratory birds found dead in Chicago are often exemplars of their species, the strongest and most resilient birds of their flock to make it this far. Imagine birds weighing only a few ounces having successfully flown thousands of miles from places as far as Peru, surviving pollution, predation, storms, starvation, and other threats only to meet their death in a preventable collision with building glass.

Even more troubling is that several species listed as national Birds of Conservation Concern due to their declining populations appear to be highly vulnerable to building collisions, including the Golden-winged Warbler, Painted Bunting, Canada Warbler, Wood Thrush, Kentucky Warbler, and Worm-eating Warbler. For additional information, see my previous entries (Steel and Glass Parts 1, 2, and 3) for more details about bird strikes with glass.

Additional Issues: Other concerns about the project include increases in traffic congestion in an already busy downtown area and the aesthetically displeasing appearance of a modern structure atop a neoclassical building from 1925. Does anyone recall the giant toilet seat addition atop Soldier Field? It destroyed the beauty of yet another one of Chicago’s iconic buildings. We are a city known for its unique architectural history, and it seems we are losing this history one building at a time.

Amtrak has been pushing the development project since 2015, although they have not announced any progress in federal funding for the desperately needed additions and modernization to existing Union Station rails, something that should be Amtrak’s priority instead of new developments. Many daily commuters have expressed concerns over the years about the lack of push for a sorely needed expansion and renovation.

What You Can Do: A great first step is to contact the 42nd Ward Alderman, Brendan Reilly ( and express your concerns about the project. It has not been approved, and he is currently seeking public opinions on the addition.

Writer, educator, nonprofit unicorn.