North Carolina

Rescuers rush to save birds that hit NASCAR Hall of Fame, as theories emerge on cause

Rescuers say they will be able to save most of the 310 birds that flew head-first into the NASCAR Hall of Fame Tuesday in Charlotte, even as experts debate what may have caused the bizarre act of nature.

Among the theories: The flock of chimney swifts thought a courtyard at the museum was a chimney entrance and hit plate glass instead.

Carolina Waterfowl Rescue reported Thursday that 102 of the chimney swifts were only stunned by the impact, and recovered enough to be freed. Another 103 are being treated for “broken wings, legs or other fractures,” the animal rescue agency said.

The remaining 100-plus birds were either dead on arrival or had to be euthanized, agency officials said on Facebook. Carolina Waterfowl is a nonprofit and is using donated money to treat the birds at a compound in Indian Land, southeast of Charlotte.

Witnesses say the birds began crashing into the museum in uptown between 10 and 11 p.m. Tuesday. A woman named Holl Belle posted video and said she watched some birds awaken and try “killing themselves again ... running into different buildings.

Judy Walker, a National Audubon Society volunteer, told McClatchy news group the birds dove into a space between two museum walls, possibly mistaking it for a chimney where they could nest for the night.

Audubon North Carolina sent out teams Wednesday evening to play chimney swift recordings, to try drawing birds away from the NASCAR building.” (The national Audubon Society has posted recordings of the birds on their website.).

Officials say it is “very unusual” for chimney swifts to crash into windows.

“Audubon volunteers have documented this a few times in North Carolina cities, but only one bird at a time – not a large-scale event like this one,” the nonprofit told McClatchy in a release.

“We suspect these birds... were out past their bedtime possibly because they could not find a suitable chimney in which to roost. And lights inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame shone brightly, reflected by low cloud cover, attracting and disorienting the birds and leading to collisions,” said the Audubon North Carolina release.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame was closed to tourists at the time of the incident. The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority released a statement Wednesday reporting animal control officials “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,” CRVA spokeswoman Karen Brand said in the release.

“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,” she said in the release.

Audubon officials said they will meet with museum staff to discuss turning out lights in the evenings “through mid-November to protect swifts and other birds migrating south for the winter.”

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.