‘When I was working murders, birding really calmed me down’ | Chicagoans | Chicago Reader

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‘When I was working murders, birding really calmed me down’

Retired Chicago police officer Luis Muñoz now does all his investigating at Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary.

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Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week's Chicagoan is Luis Muñoz, 56, birder and retired police officer.

I was on the force for 27 years. The last 22 of them, I was a detective who worked homicides. A lot of times you know who did the murder; it's just proving it. Your mind is always going, "How am I gonna catch this guy?" It's nonstop. Informants were calling me all day, all night. Sometimes I'd wake up, and I'd be punching my bedpost. It's constant, constant, constant.

The one I consider my first murder isn't technically considered a murder, because the medical examiner couldn't rule on how the victim died. But my partner and I were convinced that her boyfriend killed her. He completely disappeared. One of the last things I did before I retired, I got a call from the victim's son's wife. He was talking to her about how he never found out who killed his mother, and she called us, and I ran the fingerprints, hoping [the boyfriend] had been arrested for something minor in some other state, but no such luck. That's just one case. There are a million cases in my head.

When I was working murders, birding really calmed me down. That turned out to be my therapy. Whenever I felt stressed out, I would try to get out to [Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary]. In the beginning all the coppers at work were making fun of me, but after a while, it was, "Hey, I saw this bird, what can I do to attract 'em to my yard?" I remember one time we were leaving the Cook County Jail, and my partner is driving. I see a family of Canada geese—which was unusual, because it was January—and I told my partner, "Stop the car!" So he slams the brakes, and he's thinking I'm seeing something criminal. I said to him, "There's three goslings!"

Montrose is the number one birding location in all of Illinois. That little piece of whatever, 15 to 20 acres, is number one in the whole state. It sticks out into Lake Michigan, so when the birds are migrating at night and the sun rises, first thing they see is Montrose Point, and they make a beeline to it. I'm a hard-core birder, so a lot of birds get me excited. Kirtland's warbler, that's a really exciting bird. Piping plover, that's an endangered species. We like seeing endangered species—it gives us more firepower to go to the parks and say, "This is what we're seeing; take care of this habitat."

The Magic Hedge is part of the Point. The birds go into the hedge because they need to rest, they need to fuel up, and they need to protect themselves from predators. Unfortunately, whatever wants to nest at Montrose can't, because cruisers are there all day long. There's a bunch of sex stuff, there's dope, there's drinking. These guys just take over. You'll be out there as a birder, making sounds to attract warblers, and these guys think I'm trying to attract them, trying to engage in whatever they're doing. It really pisses me off. When you're birdwatching and you bump into the middle of a circle jerk, that's not one of the nicest things you want to see.  v

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