The City Is Not Just for the Pigeons

By Helen DunbeckPeter Walton

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The view into the tree canopy from the fifth floor offices of the MCA Photo: Abraham Ritchie © MCA Chicago


As the weather turns seasonally brisk with the recent arrival of fall, MCA staff—perched in their canopy-level offices—have begun watching as the birds of the midwest start their migration to warmer climes. Here, former staff members Helen Dunbeck and Peter Walton share their passion for ornithology.

A patch of lawn and a few trees surrounded by skyscrapers does not sound like a promising spot for bird-watching. Add a major thoroughfare—Chicago Avenue—and it sounds even less promising. But as bird-watchers know: as long as you have a tree, the birds will come to you; and as long as you have keen eyes, and maybe a pair of binoculars, you will see them.

And so it is, viewed from our fifth-floor aerie perch, that during spring and fall (blessed by our proximity to Lake Michigan) our modest trees are visited by a wide variety of migratory birds: American redstarts, indigo buntings, warblers aplenty, sapsuckers, creepers, chickadees, tanagers, flycatchers, and more. The redstarts are especially appealing, fanning their tails to display patches of orange on the predominantly black male (a true Halloween bird), and patches of yellow on the predominantly gray female. If there is an especially rare sighting (say a golden-winged warbler), our colleagues understand that business may be postponed for a few minutes. Not only are they okay with that, they frequently share our enthusiasm.

For the staff at the MCA, we have come to find that a love of art does indeed cross over to a keen appreciation of the natural world.