Fall birding season kicks off in a Chicago neighborhood once known for steel mills: ‘This is a birding hot spot’ | nation
CHICAGO–The stars arrived early. There was an eastern bluebird bright as the summer sky, a palm warbler with a jaunty chestnut-brown cap, and a snow-white great egret standing 3 feet tall.
All touched down at the Eggers Grove forest preserve on the Southeast Side in the hours before a Tuesday news conference kicking off the fall birding season.
In a clearing surrounded by thick foliage and clumps of goldenrod, local leaders including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle celebrated the annual southern migration of millions of birds through the Chicago region — now already underway. And officials urged citizens to get out to county forest preserves and enjoy the show.
“Birds are joyful,” said Audubon Great Lakes Executive Director Michelle Parker. “If you really think about them, they’re miraculous. There are birds that are coming through Eggers right now that have come here from Canada. They’re resting and refueling, and then they’re headed to South America.”
The speakers touted the vast array of birds spotted at Eggers Grove — 250 species — and highlighted the restoration of an unlikely birding hot spot located next to the Indiana Toll Road, with smokestacks billowing in the background.
Once known for its shuttered steel mills, the Southeast Side is still burdened with relatively high levels of industrial pollution.
But there are signs of progress. In recent years, restoration projects at the 240-acre Eggers Grove have included a $400,000 water control structure with pipes that flow into nearby Wolf Lake.
The system allows staff to raise and lower water levels in a 100-acre marsh, encourage the growth of native plants, discouraging invasive species and restoring habitat for waterfowl. Great egrets, for instance, benefit from shallow waters where they can fish without having to swim.
Birds sighted at Eggers Grove include bald eagles, ruby-throated hummingbirds, great blue herons, scarlet tanagers, American white pelicans and great horned owls.
“We stand in a protected reminder of ecosystems that once defined the Calumet region,” Preckwinkle said at the news conference. “This is a birding hot spot.”
“Tweet!” called out a feathered spectator from a bank of trees behind her.
“What’s that?” said Preckwinkle, clearly amused.
“TWEET!” the bird repeated, to a wave of laughter.
“You’re right. Thank you,” Preckwinkle said. “Eggers Grove is a haven for wetland and woodland birds and for nature-loving people because the forest preserves and our partners have made considerable investments in ecological restoration here.”
She pointed to efforts to remove invasive species, recreate a vast marsh and bring back native plants. And she stressed that the projects happened in an area that historically has not received its fair share of attention or investment.
The county, she said, is working to reverse that pattern, both at Eggers Grove and at other preserves.
“These investments not only benefit wildlife and local residents, they benefit all of us: Everyone who cares about migrating birds can return to the places they depend on for their journey,” Preckwinkle said. “Everyone who enjoys birding or picnicking or biking. Everyone who lives in the region where the water and air are cleaner because native plants are once again thriving.”
Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall said his agency is working to build stronger relationships with Eggers Grove’s neighbors, with activities such as bird walks, a fitness walk and a nature block party.
“There are real mental and physical benefits from being out here in nature,” he said. “You probably feel it right now. You just feel better when you’re recharging in the natural world. I hope that everyone is inspired to get out to your local forest preserve or get out to one you’ve never been to before — they’re all over the place.”
Forest preserve naturalists will hold bird walk events at Eggers Grove on Sept. 20, Oct. 6 and Nov. 10. The forest preserves also provide information on local birding, including a checklist of birds to watch for, bird-of-the-month profiles and information on how to help birds thrive at fpdcc.com/birding.
“I encourage everybody to come out here and get some fresh air, feel that calm, have those moments of joy, have those moments of awe, where you see that little bird,” said Parker. “And remember, when you see that little bird, wish it well because it might be stopping here on a journey from Canada to South America.”