CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Hundreds of chimney swift birds were scattered across the ground near the entrance of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in uptown Tuesday night after flying into the side of the building.
The rescue group, Carolina Waterfowl Rescue, said Thursday the colony of birds lives in a roost, maybe in an old building outside of uptown.
A loud sound may have startled them from their sleep and the lights from the NASCAR HOF building may have looked like a safe place for the birds that have poor eyesight.
Rescue officials told Channel 9 it was not a naturally occurring event and the birds’ migration could not have been a factor because the swifts only migrate during the day.
Some more birds recovered and were released Thursday at the rescue.
“It’s great feeling knowing we are helping a declining species,” said Keenan Freitas, with Carolina Waterfowl Rescue.
Channel 9 reporter Gina Esposito spoke with the Carolina Waterfowl Rescue, who said their rehab team responded to the NASCAR Hall of Fame around 11 p.m. and treated hundreds of birds.
(Credit: Hollie Cameron)
They said a total of 310 birds hit the windows of the building. Roughly one-third of those birds were dead when they arrived, and another third was seriously injured.
The rest appeared to be stunned but will be OK, the organization said.
“They don’t have very good depth perception, so they don’t know there was a window there,” Keenan said.
Carolina Waterfowl Rescue was able to get 135 of them into the air to migrate to safety.
The rescue posted an update Thursday on Facebook: "We did not see any evidence of disease and any of the birds. However, because this is such a strange and rare occurrence we are sending the carcasses to @naturalsciences for further study and evaluation."
Rescue workers had to feed the birds during their recovery, which is stressful because the birds instinctively catch insects in the air on the way to Chile or Peru for the winter.
“The ones with fractures, it might be two weeks,” Keenan said about the recovery process. Even then, it might be too late.”
Some have been moved to other places where they can heal faster, and a team may drive them to Florida to help with their migration.
Hollie Cameron’s disturbing cellphone video from that night shows dozens of birds lying on the ground outside the building, and captures other birds crashing into the large windows.
"He was just stunned, confused, he couldn't fly," Maria Brenez, with Carolina Waterfowl Rescue, said of one bird. "In pain, just taken anti-inflammatory. Make sure he doesn't dehydrate or starve."
Carolina Waterfowl Rescue posted an update on Facebook Wednesday morning saying 205 birds were alive when the staff came in.
"I knew the birds would be here this morning. And I saw the video, it's quite shocking. It's not something common, right, we know it has happened before, but not something that happens all the time," said Brenez.
(WARNING: Some viewers may find the video below disturbing, viewer discretion is advised)
(VIDEO CREDIT: Hollie Cameron)
In the video, Cameron watched as a bird crashed into the window and then fell to the ground, joining dozens of others.
Cameron told Channel 9 she was working in the area when she started recording on her phone around 9 p.m.
You can hear her talking with a security guard who claims the phenomenon had been going on for about an hour.
"Oh my God, look at them all," Cameron says in the video. "There's something wrong with them. This is not OK."
Carolina Waterfowl Rescue posted more video on Facebook of the birds at their facility. About 100 of the surviving birds are being treated for broken wings and fractures.
"If something startled them, or they started flying in one direction, the others are going to follow, so once they started hitting the window, the others behind them starting hitting the window," said Brenez.
CMPD Animal Care and Control reportedly responded to the scene to begin cleaning up the birds.
Once the birds are fully healed, staff members said they will try to reunite them with another colony in the area. Later Wednesday, the rescue group released some birds back into the wild.
It is possible that some birds with the worst injuries will have to stay through winter because they will miss their migration.
Carolina Waterfowl Rescue said rehabbing the injured birds is expensive, and they desperately need volunteers since the birds will need to be hand-fed.
Visit their Facebook page for more details on how you can help.
The last time something similar happened was in 2017 at Atrium health's Carolinas Medical Center when birds flew into the skybridge windows, killing many of them, CMPD animal control said.
The hospital made changes after the incident and added sheets of aluminum foil in the windows.
Statement from NASCAR Hall of Fame:
Last night we learned that a large number of birds had flown into the glass exterior of our building. We are extremely grateful to Charlotte City Services, the Animal Control division of CMPD and Carolina Waterfowl Rescue for their prompt response and for handling the situation with great care and compassion. We are saddened by this very unusual and unfortunate event, and are very appreciative of the professionalism and response of our City partners who assisted last night. Animal Control has confirmed there are not any health issues that might affect the public, our guests or employees.
We welcome the opportunity to meet with representatives from The Audubon Society and learn what may be the root cause of this regrettable incident. The NASCAR Hall of Fame Plaza is a public space that is frequented well into the night, and evening events are a critical component of the NASCAR Hall’s success. Finding a balance between operations and safety is our goal. After learning more, we are willing to evaluate potential adjustments that we hope would mitigate future occurrences. Following the conclusion of a scheduled event at the Hall tonight, we will reduce lighting to a minimal level. Continued dialogue to address concerns regarding this matter is important to us.