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This mural, completed in 2016 in a Red Line viaduct in Rogers Park, showcases North American birds affected by climate change.

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Chicago murals celebrate birds, highlight the perils they face

Public art projects in Rogers Park, the South Loop, the West Loop and elsewhere call attention to their beauty and the environmental and climate problems that threaten them

This mural, completed in 2016 in a Red Line viaduct in Rogers Park, showcases North American birds affected by climate change.
| Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

The beauty of birds can be seen in murals all around Chicago and the suburbs that celebrate their splendor and encourage awareness of their plight in the face of a worsening natural environment.

One of the best examples can be seen in Rogers Park at Greenleaf and Glenwood avenues, where North American species in danger as a result of climate change were painted in 2016 as part of the larger “Miles of Murals” project in collaboration with the National Audubon Society.

The brightly colored image of a duck on a viaduct in Rogers Park. This mural, part of the “Miles of Murals” project, was done in conjunction with the National Audubon Society.
The brightly colored image of a duck on a viaduct in Rogers Park. This mural, part of the “Miles of Murals” project, was done in conjunction with the National Audubon Society.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

A plaque at the site reads: “Through these dynamic images we hope to bring new awareness to this environmental crisis. As of 2016, 314 of 588 bird species studied nationally have been identified as threatened by anticipated climate change due to compromised migratory patterns, reduced food supply and depreciated air quality.”

Part of a mural at Greenleaf and Glenwood avenues in Rogers Park that showcases North American birds.
Part of a mural at Greenleaf and Glenwood avenues in Rogers Park that showcases North American birds.
Annie Costabile / Sun-Times

A half dozen artists painted the winged creatures on opposing sides of an L viaduct, with images of a tree swallow, Baltimore oriole, hooded merganser, sapsucker, red-breasted nuthatch and wood duck, among others. The key artists were Ruben Aguirre, Cheri Charlton, Andrea Jablonski, Tyrue “SLANG” Jones, Anthony Lewellen and Chris Silva.

“The project started in New York,” and “we just thought it was a great project and wanted to bring it to Chicago,” says Lea Pinsky, the artist who managed the project with her artist-husband Dustin Harris.

This mural in an L viaduct features images of a tree swallow, a Baltimore oriole, a hooded merganser, a sapsucker, a red-breasted nuthatch and a wood duck, among other birds.
This mural in an L viaduct features images of a tree swallow, a Baltimore oriole, a hooded merganser, a sapsucker, a red-breasted nuthatch and a wood duck, among other birds.
Annie Costabile / Sun-Times

“It’s both a social message” that raises “awareness and inspires people to take action, small or large,” Pinsky says.

And it’s about “creating urban beautification . . . bringing the natural world into the dense urban environment.”

Also in 2016, Dutch artist Collin van der Sluijs completed a towering South Loop mural titled “From Bloom to Doom” that features two kinds of birds whose numbers have plummeted: the yellow-headed blackbird and the red-headed woodpecker.

Collin van der Sluijs completed this mural on a nine-story South Loop building in 2016. It features two types of birds whose numbers have plummeted.
Collin van der Sluijs completed this mural on a nine-story South Loop building in 2016. It features two types of birds whose numbers have plummeted.
Rich Hein / Sun-Times

Farther west, near Chicago Avenue and Paulina Street, Justin Suarez, a Rochester, New York, artist, painted a mural in 2019 of a peregrine falcon. These birds like to nest on Chicago high-rises and dive bomb for meals.

Suarez volunteers at a sanctuary for birds of prey and gets to “experience them on a one-on-one level,” which helps his artwork.

“I paint all sorts of wildlife,” he says. “The birds of prey, I’m the most passionate about.”

This mural of a peregrine falcon near Chicago Avenue and Paulina Street was painted in 2019 by Justin Suarez, an artist from Rochester, New York.
This mural of a peregrine falcon near Chicago Avenue and Paulina Street was painted in 2019 by Justin Suarez, an artist from Rochester, New York.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

Elsewhere around Chicago, other murals feature a robin, tropical birds, a peacock and a pelican.

This mural of a pelican greets passers-by at Lake and Laflin streets in the West Loop. It was completed by Juan De La Mora in 2017.
This mural of a pelican greets passers-by at Lake and Laflin streets in the West Loop. It was completed by Juan De La Mora in 2017.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

Bird murals have the power to make “people pause and look at something beautiful and wild, but also part of our city,” especially with Chicago being a big migratory pathway, says Jennifer Hoffman, a Chicago mixed-media artist and bird enthusiast.

With studies having shown worrisome declines in bird populations, Hoffman says the murals are “a way to call out the importance” of birds.

Click on the map below for a selection of Chicago-area murals

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