When American National Insurance Co. employees arrived at work Thursday morning, they were greeted by a gruesome sight.
Hundreds of birds lay dead around the tower at One Moody Plaza, the island’s tallest downtown building.
Maintenance workers scooped up the birds — warblers and Baltimore orioles among them — and called the city’s animal control department.
Animal Control supervisor Josh Henderson said he collected and sorted 368 birds from around the building. Henderson, who has worked for the city since 2006, called the incident the worst of its kind he could recall.
“I have never picked up this many,” he said.
By the time he responded to the building, Henderson found only three birds still alive. Others could have flown off, he said.
It appears the birds may have hit the building Wednesday night as thunderstorms moved over the island.
The birds may have been confused by lights inside the building, and flew into closed windows while they were looking for shelter, Henderson said.
Henderson spent Thursday afternoon sorting and cataloging the birds. The carcasses will be sent to qualified taxidermists so they can be used in museum displays, he said.
None of the birds were locally native species, he said. Rather, they were migratory birds that use Galveston as a pit stop on the way back north during the spring.
Some buildings use strategies to help birds avoid flying into windows, including turning off lights or using specially designed windows.
As many as 988 million birds die in window collisions every year, according to a 2013 report from Oklahoma State University.
It’s unclear whether such strategies are employed at the American National building. Company officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The birds that survived Wednesday’s incident were taken to the Wildlife Center of Texas in Houston for rehabilitation. The animal control department has partnered with the center to care for birds that are found injured on the island, Henderson said.
The department also has recently formed a volunteer injured bird response team to help coordinate transport of birds from Galveston to Houston.
Some of the members of that group hoped that Thursday’s incident would prompt more local discussion of bird safety considerations.
“One of the things we could do is turn off the lights at night during migration season,” said Tim Long, a master naturalist and bird rescue coordinator who lives in Tiki Island. “If the lights are off, the birds are not attracted to the buildings.”
For information about joining the response team, email Henderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.