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The places where I monitor birds

Here are a list of links to places where I post photos and stories about the birds I find as I monitor parks and neighborhoods on the west side of Chicago:

Columbus Park (far west side of Chicago):

Douglas Park (near west side of Chicago):

Riis Park (northwest side of Chicago):

Taylor Park (north Oak Park):

South Oak Park (I walk a route through neighborhoods west of Ridgeland and south of the highway in south Oak Park):

I have also been posting photos from all the places where I monitor birds on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chicagowestnature/

Birds in south Oak Park: 2020 year in review

NOTE: This post was originally published on the South Oak Park Neighbors Facebook group, on February 24, 2021.

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Although most year-in-review articles are published in December or early January, this one will be a little different. With photos and text, this post reviews some of the birds I saw in south Oak Park during 2020.  I’m both looking back, of course, and but I’m also thinking ahead, because many of these same birds will grace our lives during 2021. Surprisingly, I saw one of my least common birds of 2020 less than two weeks into January. It was a Merlin, a falcon a little larger than our local American Kestrels, perched atop the Lincoln School antenna tower. I guess it was an omen, since 2020 turned out to be my “Year of the Raptor” in south Oak Park, with lots of hawk and falcon sightings and even some nesting hawks! (photographed on January 9, 2020)

(photographed on January 9, 2020)

Mourning Doves were found in south Oak Park year-round during 2020.  But, if you had a bird feeder, you may have noticed that we had more Mourning Doves during the winter months, as doves from farther north migrated to our area in search of reliable winter food supplies. This dove, under a bird feeder, was here during the winter peak in dove numbers. By late February, doves had begun to move north again. By the end of March, we just had the local warm-season doves stopping by our feeders for a snack between nesting duties.

(photographed on February 4, 2020)

Speaking of raptors, we had at least two pairs of Cooper’s Hawks nest in south-central and southwest Oak Park during 2020.  The hawks were already acting amorous by late February, when I saw a pair of Cooper’s Hawks calling and flying between trees at Scoville and Fillmore (a half block west of two previous nesting sites).

(photographed on February 23, 2020)

By early March, a different pair of Cooper’s Hawk pair was already working on a nest in a backyard along Fillmore, just east of Maple Park. The larger female hawk carried sticks and worked them into her new nest, while the smaller male sat in nearby trees and watched. This pair wound up abandoning this nest and using one they build in a large elm tree a block and a half north, along Wisconsin Avenue.

(photographed on March 10, 2020)

By mid March, large numbers of American Robins had migrated north to south Oak Park. On one Monday morning I saw 13 American Robins hunting for worms on the Rehm Park soccer field plus 16 robins on the south ball field at Maple Park. My morning total was 60 robins, twice as many as I counted the previous week in south Oak Park. 

(photographed on March 16, 2020, at Rehm Park)

A couple of Red-winged Blackbirds established nesting territories by ditches along the Eisenhower Expressway. In mid March, this recently arrived male was singing from a light fixture near the East Avenue bridge.

(photographed on March 16, 2020)

By late March, at least 11 House Finches were singing on their south Oak Park nesting territories. This male was perched in a backyard elm tree. He would sing, eat an elm bud, then sing again (but with a messy beak).

(photographed on March 25, 2020)

Where there are nesting territories, there are boundaries to defend. This Black-capped Chickadees was engaged in a territorial dispute with its neighbors, with lots of chickadee shouting.

(photographed on March 25, 2020)

By mid April, Chipping Sparrows were back in Maple Park, ready to nest. This male was singing in a treetop north of the playground. Chipping Sparrows have nested in Maple Park almost every year for at least the last 10 years.

(photographed on April 18, 2020)

By mid April, two Cooper’s Hawks nests had been completed in trees high above south Oak Park streets. I could see hawks on the nests, but I wasn’t sure what they were doing there. Had they laid eggs yet? Had they started incubating the eggs? Because this hawk was riding kind of high on her Wisconsin Avenue nest, I could not be certain.

(photographed on April 18, 2020)

While many local birds had their south Oak Park nesting territories by April, other migrants were still working their way north. This Hermit Thrush stopped by a backyard garden along Lexington to rustle some bugs from the dead leaves.

(photographed on April 8, 2020)

A Brown Creeper scooted up a tree trunk along Wisconsin Avenue in search of tiny insects on the bark.

(photographed on April 8, 2020)

This Yellow-bellied Sapsucker had pecked holes in a tree in Rehm Park. He was revisiting the holes to drink sap and eat insects that had been drawn to the sweet liquid.

(photographed on April 18, 2020)

This male Yellow-rumped Warbler took advantage of the sapsucker’s work, stealing a meal of sap and bugs to help power his own journey to northern nesting grounds. 

(photographed on April 18, 2020)

A White-throated Sparrow foraged under a large elm tree on South Euclid Avenue, finding beetle larvae that had fallen from the newly opened leaves.

(photographed on April 27, 2020)

And this White-crowned Sparrow ate dandelion seeds on a lawn just north of Euclid Square Park.

(photographed on May 8, 2020)

Those of us with backyard feeders had a somewhat closer look at migrating birds. This male Rose-breasted Grosbeak was eating black-oil sunflower seeds on my platform feeder.

(photographed on May 13, 2020)

And this female Baltimore Oriole was eating pulp from halved clementines I had staked out above the platform feeder.

(photographed on May 14, 220)

Yes, the Red-eyed Vireo is upside down, not the photo. Vireos will do anything necessary to catch small insects among newly opened honey-locust leaves.

(photographed on May 25, 2020)

Back to those birds that nest in south Oak Park: By late May this American Robin nest, near Rehm Park, already had at least three hungry nestlings waiting to be fed.

(photographed on May 25, 2020)

From late April through the end of May, all I saw when I looked at the Cooper’s Hawk’s nest was a tail sticking over the edge of the nest. Through most of May the hawks must have been incubating their eggs. By late May, the eggs had probably hatched, but the nestlings were so small that I could not see their heads above the edge of the nest.

(photographed on May 25, 2020)

This may seem like a digression but remember the cicadas that emerged in south Oak Park during early June of last year? The wingless Periodical Cicada nymphs had sucked on tree roots underground for at least 13 years. Then, when the soil temperature was right, they dug out of the ground and climbed trees, fences, trash cans, or whatever was available to molt into winged adults. They probably never realized that they came out four years earlier than the major Periodical Cicada emergence in this area, expected in 2024.

(photographed on June 4, 2020)

That last photo wasn’t really a digression, because plump, juicy cicadas made good meals for crows and other birds. This young crow was begging for the cicada that its parent just plucked off a fence along Fillmore Street.

(photographed on June 4, 2020)

Back to those Cooper’s Hawks nests. Once the babies hatched, their parents feed them frequently, day in and day out, so they grew fast. By June 14th, the young hawks on the Wisconsin Avenue nest were big enough to climb to the edges of their nest.

(photographed on June 14, 2020)

By June 23rd, the nestling hawks at Wisconsin Avenue had grown flight feathers and practiced stretching their wings.

(photographed one June 23, 2020)

By June 27th, one young hawk was more interested in stretching its wings that in eating the meal its parent had just brought to the nest…..

(photographed on June 27, 2020).

…and one of its siblings had already left the nest and was perched on a nearby branch.

(photographed on June 27, 2020).

And by July 5th, the young Cooper’s Hawks had left their Wisconsin Avenue elm tree. This youngster was calling on an alley wire just east of Maple Park, probably expecting a parent to bring it a meal.

(photographed on July 5, 2020)

Our other south Oak Park nesting birds had also been busy. Here’s a nestling House Wren peeking out of its gourd near Maple Park. Its parent scolded me, then flew off in search of more bugs to feed her babies.

(photographed on July 5, 2020)

This mother House Sparrow found bugs in someone’s lawn to feed her fledgling.

(photographed on July 5, 2020)

This young Mourning Dove was already on its own. I heard several Mourning Doves singing nearby, so it seemed that the young doves’ parents already were starting a new family.

(photographed on July 5, 2020)

Some bird parents did not get a break this summer. This young Brown-headed Cowbird was raised in a Northern Cardinal nest on our block, and its foster parents had to scramble to keep it fed. One pair of Maple Park Chipping Sparrows raised both a cowbird and a young bird of their own species.

(photo taken on July 17)

The young Cooper’s Hawks stuck around south Oak Park at least through mid August. I found this young Cooper’s Hawk in an alley on August 18th.

(photo taken on August 18)

When I found this hawk in an alley in early September, I thought this was another Cooper’s Hawk. Then I noticed that the tail was much too short. This was actually a young Broad-winged Hawk that was raised in a forest somewhere to the north. It had spent the night roosting near Maple Park before continuing its migration to Central or South America.

(photographed on September 5)

I saw fewer Blue Jays than usual in south Oak Park during 2020, and as far as I know, no jays nested in our neighborhood. However, several Blue Jays returned to the neighborhood in late August. This jay was in a backyard near Rehm Park.

(photographed on August 31)

Once nesting season was over, it was time to fatten up for the coming fall and winter. This female American Goldfinch was eating Common Sunflower seeds in a backyard along Lexington.

(photographed on September 1)

And this American Robin was finding lots of ripe fruit in Rehm Park.

(photographed on October 2, 2020)

And, of course, birds that had migrated north in spring headed back south during fall migration. Migrant Yellow-rumped Warblers found small insects in the Rehm Park soccer field turf.

(photographed on September 24, 2020)

And Golden-crowned Kinglets foraged for tiny insects on this hackberry trunk and in a nearby pine tree. (

photographed on October 19, 2020)

Red-bellied Woodpeckers nest along the Des Plaines River and in other forested areas. They usually arrive in south Oak Park during fall migration, and sometimes one spends the winter here. This Red-bellied Woodpecker was hiding a peanut for later consumption.

(photographed on November 12, 2020)

Dark-eyed Juncos migrated south from Canada to spend the winter in our neighborhood. By December, I could usually find at least a couple of juncos in Rehm Park and in my nearby backyard.

(photographed on December 4, 2020)

The junco joined the birds that live in south Oak Park year-round. This chickadee plucked a seed from someone’s backyard feeder and was looking for a place to hide it for a later meal.

(photographed on December 9, 2020)

Downy Woodpeckers usually find their own food on trees in south Oak Park, although they will also visit suet feeders.

(photographed on December 9, 2020)

This male House Finch was eating seeds in a Katsura tree at Rehm Park playground.

(photographed December 20, 2020)

Rounding out my “Year of the Raptor” in south Oak Park, an adult Cooper’s Hawk hung out on my block for a couple of weeks during late October and early November. It mostly perched in trees and kept an eye on my backyard, on other yards with feeders, and on Rehm Park.

(photographed on November 1, 2020)

And here’s a photo of a male American Kestrel that I saw several times a month through fall and early winter. I usually saw him perched in tall trees or atop the antennae at Lincoln School or the old Mohr concrete plant.

(photographed on December 9, 2020)

And finally, this beautiful adult Red-shouldered Hawk visited south Oak Park several times during the fall and early winter. I saw it hunting mice along the highway and, in this case, hunting squirrels in Rehm Park.

(photographed on December 22, 2020)

Now it’s 2021, and the birds keep on coming. During the last two weeks of February, I saw both adult and juvenile Red-shouldered Hawks on my block, American Robins in several Oak Park backyards, and big flocks of American Crows in Columbus Park.

As the year progresses, I hope I can keep posting photos of my finds on this blog.

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Birds in Taylor Park: 2020 year in review

NOTE: Taylor Park is on the northeast side of Oak Park, Illinois. This post was originally published on the Northeast Oak Park Community Facebook group, on February 19, 2021.

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Most year-in-review posts are written in December or early January. But, after a couple of rough weeks of winter, now seems like a good time to review the birds I saw in Taylor Park during 2020. It’s fun to recall the many beautiful birds I saw there last year, but it’s even more fun to anticipate the many birds I hope to see in the park once spring migration begins in a few weeks.

Birdwatchers recorded 67 species of birds on the Taylor Park’s eBird page during 2020. Six kinds of birds were spotted in the park for the first time that year: Red-shoulder Hawk, Sora, Eastern Kingbird, Willow Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, and Canada Warbler. That brought the park’s all-time species list to 108 species!

The year started slowly. Most days I visited during January had only a couple of species, like House Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, or American Robin. But the park had one special visitor during January, and bird life started picking up in late February and March.

Scroll down through this page to see birds that visited, nested, or just plain hung out in Taylor Park during 2020.

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Here’s the special visitor to Taylor Park from January 2020. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are woodpeckers that drill shallow holes in tree bark to tap the tree’s sap supply. I guess sap was already running in late January, because I found this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on January 22nd. The ice frozen to the bark is sap from holes higher on the trunk.

(photographed on January 22, 2020)

Here’s a closer look at some freshly drilled sapsucker holes.

(photographed on January 22, 2020)

At least a few American Robins spent the winter in the Taylor Park neighborhood. As of late February, the local robins could still find a little dried fruit in the trees by the tennis courts. (photographed on February 19, 2020)

(photographed on February 19, 2020)

Some Mourning Doves also spent the winter in the Taylor Park neighborhood. They probably ate seed from backyard bird feeders, and they sometimes perched in the park to soak up some sun.

(photographed on February 19, 2020)

Male Red-winged Blackbirds arrived at Taylor Park in early March and immediately started singing to claim their nesting territories.

(photographed on March 8, 2020)

By mid March, Mallards were hanging out in the Taylor Park wetlands. I heard rumors that Mallards nested somewhere in the neighborhood, but I never saw their ducklings.

(photographed on March 14, 2020)

Once American Robin’s spring migration began, Taylor Park’s robin counts increased from three robins on March 3rd to 75 robins on April 2nd. The robins also switched their diets, from the sparse fruit remaining on the crab apple and hawthorn trees to worms yanked out of soccer field turf.

(photographed on March 18, 2020)

Sparrow migration also began in March and continued into May. This Song Sparrow was hanging out in the fenced wetland in late March. I keep hoping Song Sparrows will stick around and nest in Taylor Park, but so far, no luck with that. Maybe we need more meadow habitat.

(photographed on March 22, 2020)

Migrating Swamp Sparrows found the park’s marshy wetland habitat in April. I found eight Swamp Sparrows on April 24th, and at least one stayed until May 11th before heading north to nest. 

(photographed on April 10, 2020)

Ruby-crowned Kinglets and their Golden-crowned cousins were some of the first insect-eating migrants to explore the park’s trees during mid April.

(photographed on April 14, 2020)

By late April, some American Robins were already building nests in Taylor Park.

(photographed on April 24, 2020)

A Mourning Dove was also building a nest in Taylor Park in early May.

(photographed on May 1. 2020)

At least two Chipping Sparrow pairs claimed nesting territories in the park during spring 2020, but I never found their nests.

(photographed on May 6. 2020)

Female Red-winged Blackbirds had joined their male mates by late April, so their nesting season was underway by early May. This female Red-winged Blackbirds was hunting for insects on the park lawn, perhaps to feed her newly hatched nestlings.

(photographed on May 11, 2020)

While a few bird species had started nesting in the park by early May, other species, like this male Rose-breasted just stopped by for a meal before continuing their spring migration.

(photographed on May 6. 2020)

May was peak migration time for warblers. This Magnolia Warbler was one of seven warbler species I spotted in Taylor Park during May 2020.

(photographed on May 16, 2020)

The Taylor Park wetlands also attracted birds during May, including the Solitary Sandpiper lurking behind the out-of-focus Mallard’s head.

(photographed on May 11, 2020)

The Taylor Park wetlands were a stop-over for the park’s first-ever Sora during May migration. Sora are a kind of rail, a secretive group of marsh birds. Another Sora stopped by the wetlands during fall migration.

(photographed on May 26, 2020 – the Sora’s head is on your left)

All the birds in Taylor Park attracted the attentions of this adult Cooper’s Hawk. At least one pair of Cooper’s Hawks nested elsewhere in northeast Oak Park.

(photographed on May 26, 2020)

Many of the Cedar Waxwings seen in Taylor Park during May were migrating through, but some years they also nest in or near the park.

(photographed on May 26, 2020)

When I found this male Baltimore Oriole during mid May, I assumed he was just stopping over for a meal during migration.

(photographed on May 16, 2020)

Then, on June 20th, I saw a Baltimore Oriole flying to its nest high in an elm tree in the northeast corner of Taylor Park.

(photographed on June 20, 2020)

The next time the oriole approached its nest, it had a beak full of bugs to feed its babies.

(photographed on June 20, 2020)

Then I noticed that a fledgling Baltimore Oriole had already left the nest! This was my first-ever oriole nest in Oak Park. Baltimore Orioles often nest in Chicago parks with large lagoons. I guess the small Taylor Park wetlands, plus the insects living in the park’s native trees, were enough to support at least one oriole family.

(photographed on June 20, 2020)

When I saw the Taylor Park’s first-ever Eastern Kingbird. I assumed it was just another stop-over migrant. Then, all through June and July, I kept hearing kingbird calls and seeing adult kingbirds flying between treetops.

(photographed on May 26, 2020)

Finally, on the last day of July, I saw a kingbird parent feeding an insect to a fledgling kingbird. I never found the kingbird nest, but it was probably somewhere in the park or in a neighbor’s yard.

(photographed on July 31, 2020)

Speaking of bird food, remember the Periodical Cicadas that emerged in early June?

(photographed on June 5, 2020)

Cicadas and other insects were good food for fledgling Red-winged Blackbirds and many other bird species.  

(photographed on June 10, 2020)

American Goldfinches don’t nest until thistle seeds ripen in mid to late summer. This male goldfinch was singing in Taylor Park in early August, so it may have had a nest nearby.

(photographed on August 12, 2020)

September was a slow month for birds in Taylor Park, but things started picking up once hawthorn and crab apple fruits ripened. These House Finches were enjoying ripe fruit in the northwest corner of the park in early October.

(photographed on October 1, 2020)

This American Robin was eating ripe fruit by the tennis courts.

(photographed on October 1, 2020)

And, late in October, these Cedar Waxwings were resting in a tree east of the restroom building. They had just eaten a large meal of bright red fruit.

(photographed on October 28, 2020)

The park’s lawns held more than worms for robins. This Palm Warbler was finding tiny insects on the Taylor Park soccer field in early October. Energy from insects helped power its southward migration.

(photographed on October 1, 2020)

And in late October, once the morning frost had melted in the bright sun, this Yellow-rumped Warbler hopped onto the soccer field, looking for tiny insects. Now the warbler is holding its latest catch in its beak.

(photographed on October 28, 2020)

Taylor Park’s native trees also provided insects for migrating birds. This Blackpoll Warbler was busy hunting insects in an oak.

(photographed on October 1, 2020)

And this Ruby-crowned Kinglet also found insects in the park’s trees.

(photographed on October 17, 2020)

This Red-bellied Woodpecker also stopped by to eat Taylor Park insects, digging them out of dead wood on one of the park’s trees.

(photographed on November 13, 2020)

Black-capped Chickadees also visited Taylor Park to pick tiny insects off twigs and branches. Chickadees can switch to backyard bird feeders when the weather gets cold, which helps them make it through the winter.

(photographed on November 13, 2020)

Many hawks migrate through our area each fall. This young Red-shouldered Hawk was spotted at the west edge of the park during mid October. It was 108th species recorded on Taylor Park’s eBird page.

(photographed on October 13, 2020)

Turning to seed-eating birds, this Pine Siskin posed in a small tree near the playground. Pine Siskins migrated through our area in large numbers last fall, because there were not enough conifer seeds for them up north.

(photographed on October 28, 2020)

Many migrating sparrows stopped by to eat Taylor Park seeds last fall, including this Savannah Sparrow, perched on the wetland fence.

(photographed on November 1, 2020)

Remember Taylor Park’s first special visitor back in January 2020? Another Yellow-bellied Sapsucker stopped by the park in late November, this time drilling into a pine tree near the southeast corner of the park. 

(photographed on November 28, 2020)

This American Robin could still find fruit on Taylor Park trees in December of last year, which helps bring us full circle. During 2021, Taylor Park will attract most of bird species recorded in this 2020 year-in-review, but I’m sure the coming year also will include some bird surprises. If all goes well, I will share my sightings this coming year, as I did in 2020.

(photographed on December 2, 2020)

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Restarting the Neighborhood Nature Blog

I started this Neighborhood Nature Blog back in 2009 as a place to tell stories about my family’s adventures in the yards and parks of Oak Park, Illinois, and the west side of Chicago, using narrative text and photographs. Several years ago I started telling those stories on Facebook, instead, especially in Facebook groups like Nature in Riis Park and Nature in Columbus Park.

Recent changes to Facebook albums have made it harder to tell stories that interweave text with photos. So, I’m going to restart Neighborhood Nature and resume telling my stories here. I will still post links to my stories on Facebook, as well as other short-form content, but at least some of my longer my photo stories about birds and other nature in Oak Park, Riis Park, and Columbus Park will be posted here.

My stories about nature in Douglass Park will be posted on a different website called Nature in Douglass Park.

Returns of the Winter Geese

My sons and I have been monitoring birds at Chicago’s Westside parks for almost a decade. Now that Ethan and Aaron are off at college, I still visit Columbus, Douglas, and Riis Parks at least three or four times each month. In each park I walk a route that takes me to most of the places where birds hang out and count every bird I see. I carefully count even the most common species, like American Robin, European Starling, and Canada Goose. We’ve gathered a lot of data over the years, and we’ve learned a lot about the seasonal changes in bird populations in this part of town. (Much of this data is summarized elsewhere on this blog: Columbus Park, Douglas Park, Riis Park.)

One thing that we quickly learned is that Canada Goose populations in the parks fluctuate quite a bit each year, as shown in the following graph of goose count data from Columbus Park, where we have been monitoring since 2007. (Click on the graph to make it larger.)

ColumbusGooseCounts2007-2015
Seasonal changes in the Canada Goose population at Columbus Park on Chicago’s Westside, April 2007 through October 2015.

During the summer months there are often a few geese at Columbus Park, and some years a pair or two raise a brood of goslings. Other years the resident coyotes and goose-managing humans eliminate all geese from the park, at least during mid summer. Starting in September the park’s goose population begins to increase, and by Christmas Bird Count in mid December we often count 500 or more geese on the lagoon, lawns, and golf course at Columbus Park. During cold and snowy winters the geese may head elsewhere for a month or more, but goose populations usually increase again once the snow and ice melt. Sometime in March northward migration begins, and by April Canada Goose populations have fallen back to their late spring through summer levels. Although it’s not shown on the graph, goose populations in the park also fluctuate during the day, as many geese fly elsewhere at night.

Our monitoring data from Douglas Park is much less complete, since we only started going there regularly in 2012. However, the available data indicate that the yearly cycle at Douglas is similar to Columbus: Lower counts during the spring and summer, sharp increase in fall, drop off mid winter if there are deep snows, and at least a partial recovery before spring migration begins in March.

DouglasGooseCounts2007-2015
Seasonal changes in the Canada Goose population at Douglas Park on Chicago’s Westside. Although we visited Douglas several times a year starting in 2007, we only started monitoring there regularly in March, 2012.

We’ve always assumed that the winter Canada Geese in our parks come from somewhere to the north; however, I’ve wondered where, exactly, they spent their summers. Did they nest a hundred miles to the north, in Wisconsin? Or a thousand miles or more from Chicago, in arctic Canada? I’ve also wondered if the winter geese are loyal to one park, returning day after day, month after month, or if they wander from park to park, county to county, state to state, always looking for greener grass? And finally, I’ve wondered if the same Canada Geese return to Chicago, and maybe even to the same park, year after year?

I stumbled on some answers to my questions last December (2014) at Douglas Park. I was following my usual route around the north lagoon when my path was blocked by a small flock of geese. I slowly walked to and through the flock, and as they parted to let me through, I happened to look down. Here’s what I saw:

CGeeseBandedDouglas12-3-14-
Canada Geese with leg markers C120 and C105, seen on December 3, 2014, at Douglas Park.

In all my years of monitoring birds, I had never seen markers like these. Of course, I rarely got this close to geese, and when I did I rarely looked at their legs. Looking around online I found a United States Geological Survey (USGS) website where I could submit my marker observations. I completed online forms for these two geese, and a few weeks later I received an email with a certificate of appreciation that looked like this. (I removed the bander’s address to respect his privacy.) :

Certificate of Appreciation for submitting data on the goose with leg marker C120.
Certificate of Appreciation for submitting data on the goose with leg marker C120.

Now I had at least a partial answer to one of my questions about Chicago’s winter geese. Both C120 and C105 had been banded the previous summer in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, when they were too young to fly. Intrigued, I started paying much more attention to goose legs as I monitored birds. By slowly walking through goose flocks on the lawns and ball fields, I was able to address another question when I relocated both C105 and C120 at Douglas Park later that month. It seemed that at least some geese were returning to the same park more than once.

By staring at lots of goose legs through the winter and early spring of 2014-2015, I eventually found eight different leg-marked geese at Douglas Park, two at Columbus Park, and six at Steelworkers’ Park on Chicago’s far southeast lakeshore (where my younger son, Aaron, monitors birds). Once the winter’s snows melted, I also started seeing a different sort of marker, a white neck collar with black letter and numbers:

NeckBand78A-66C-Columbus4-18-15
Canada Geese with neck collars 66C and 78A, seen at Columbus Park on Chicago’s Westside, on April 8, 2015.

Following up on information in the Certificates of Appreciation I received for the collared geese, I learned they had been marked the previous summer by a local research project, the Ecology of Wintering Canada Geese in the Greater Chicago Metropolitan Area (more information here and here). Through the spring I found eleven different neck-collared geese: Two at Douglas Park, six at Columbus Park, one at Riis Park, and two at Steelworker’s Park.

Even after local goose populations had decreased in the spring I kept looking for marked geese, but I did not see any after late May. However, in early August I received an email from the Canadian goose bander informing me that C165 had returned to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

As usual, local goose populations started increasing in September, and on September 30, 2015, I found two marked geese at Douglas Park, C120 and C151. I now had a partial answer to another of my questions, since I had seen C120 at Douglas twice before during December, 2014. Additional visits to Douglas Park through mid October located four more geese that I recorded the previous winter. In other words, by October 18, five of the eight leg-marked geese seen at Douglas during the winter of 2014-2015 had returned to the park.

Although I continue to stare at goose legs and necks in Chicago Parks (and plan to do so for years to come), this seems like a good time to tabulate my findings to date. The table for Douglas Park pretty much summarizes what I’ve learned so far:

Table summarizing data od marked Canada Geese at Douglas Park, Chicago, from December, 2014, through October 18, 2015.
Table summarizing data on marked Canada Geese at Douglas Park, Chicago, from December, 2014, through October 18, 2015.

Looking back at the questions I asked earlier in this blog post, here are some partial answers. (I call the answers partial because I saw markers on about one-in-a-hundred winter geese.):

  • Where did the winter (and spring) geese spend their summers?  My sample includes both geese banded during summers in Canada and geese banded during summer of 2014 in the Chicago area.
  • Are the winter geese loyal to one park, returning day after day?  My sample includes five geese that were present at Douglas twice in a month.
  • …month after month? Two of the seven geese that were seen at Douglas during December, 2014, returned to Douglas after the winter snows melted, during March, 2015. (Apparently they sought greener pastures when the snow got too deep at Douglas Park.)
  • Do the same Canada Geese return to Chicago, and maybe even to the same park, year after year?  Five of the eight leg-banded geese seen at Douglas Park last winter have been seen in the park so far this fall.

One more interesting finding from the age column of the Douglas Park table. The oldest goose in that sample, A657, was at least one year old when it was banded during July, 2008. That means it could have spent seven or more winters in Chicago before I finally saw it. I really wish I knew back then that goose legs could be so interesting!

My Douglas Park sample has more leg-marked geese than collared geese, but that pattern is reversed in my Columbus Park sample, as shown in the following table:

Table summarizing data on marked Canada Geese at Columbus Park, Chicago, from December, 2014, through mid October, 2015.
Table summarizing data on marked Canada Geese at Columbus Park, Chicago, from December, 2014, through mid October, 2015.

Of the two leg-marked geese seen at Columbus Park, one returned multiple times, both before and after the winter snows. Also, with a larger sample of neck-collared geese at this park, maybe it’s time to ask, why did I only see collared geese after the winter snows? Hundreds of geese received neck collars in the Chicago area during summer 2014, and even if they migrated south at some point, they could have been in the area for a couple months after banding. Neck collars, unlike leg markers, are pretty obvious when you are counting geese, even if they are too far away to read the numbers. I can make excuses for not seeing leg markers: They can’t be seen when the geese are on water or in the air, and they can’t be seen when the geese are far away or when the grass is too tall. Therefore, absences for leg markers probably don’t mean very much. However, I can’t make excuses for missing neck collars, especially when I was already looking for the much less conspicuous leg markers. There’s got to be an interesting story about the travels of neck-collared geese, but my Douglas and Columbus data are too sketchy to tell it. However, data from two other parks provide a bit more information about the collared geese.

Riis Park, on Chicago’s northwest side, attracts fewer geese than Douglas or Columbus Parks. Perhaps that’s why I only found one marked goose there, neck collar C111:

Table summarizing data on marked Canada Geese at Riis Park, Chicago, from December, 2014, through mid October, 2015.
Table summarizing data on marked Canada Geese at Riis Park, Chicago, from December, 2014, through mid October, 2015.

Like the other collared geese this one did not appear in the park until spring. Unlike the collared geese from Douglas and Columbus, this one stuck around for awhile: I saw it on both April 1 and May 27 at Riis, and I also saw it during the May 9th Illinois Spring Bird Count, at Garfield Park a few miles southeast of Riis. Like the other collared geese, it has not been seen since May, 2014 — at least so far.

Finally, here’s some data about marked geese seen at Steelworkers Park on the far southeast side of Chicago. My son, Aaron, and I visited this area once or twice a week until Aaron left for college.  Aaron monitors birds in and around the entire South Works steel mill property, but all our marker sightings were on the lawn Steelworkers Park, on Lake Michigan just north of the mouth of the Calumet River:

SteelworkersGooseDataGIF
Table summarizing data on marked Canada Geese at Steelworks Park, Chicago, from December, 2014, through mid October, 2015.

There was one day in March when we saw a lot of marked geese at Steelworks Park: Six with leg markers and one with a neck collar. Those geese then disappeared, perhaps flying north or maybe just deciding that the grass at nearby Rainbow Beach and Calumet Park was more tasty. A second collared goose (24C, a male) was seen at least four times during April and May (April 2 and 16, May 2 and 21). Sometimes 24C was seen with other geese, and sometimes he was all alone. By May there were many goose nests on the old ore retaining walls near Steelworkers, so it’s possible 24C was the male in a mated pair. However, we never saw him with goslings, so we will never know for sure.

That’s where things stand as the end of October approaches. I’ve begun to answer some of my long-standing questions about wintering Canada Geese by piggy-backing on other people’s efforts. (Banding Canada Geese in July must be hot and dirty work!). I find the results amazing, but not surprising. Amazing things happen in goose brains to make them return time and again to the Westside parks. But they’re birds, after all, and birds do even more amazing things every migration season.

My findings are at most a few pixels in a much larger picture of Canada Goose yearly cycles, but they are a start, and they are the pixels I’m going to value most. Of course the two-year Ecology of Wintering Canada Geese in the Greater Chicago Metropolitan Area is going to fill in a lot more pixels in the Chicago area, and I look forward to reading their reports.

Until then, I’ll keep looking at goose legs and goose necks everywhere I go. If you do the same, and you find any of “my” geese, please report them on the USGS website. I’d also appreciate it if you send me a message about your sighting.

And now they are eating…caterpillars!

Almost two weeks ago we solved the mystery of what warblers were eating in the streets of south Oak Park: Beetle larvae!

Well, the beetle larvae are not longer tumbling from our elm trees, but the warblers and thrushes and Indigo Buntings keep coming, along with tanagers and orioles and more! So, to find out what the birds are eating now, I grabbed a white plastic box lid, held it under some low elm branches, and started shaking:

I shook the elm branches and caught whatever fell off them with a white plastic lid.

Here’s what I found: Little green caterpillars! (I put the dime there. Money doesn’t grow on trees in our neighborhood.)

Little green caterpillars that have been feeding on newly opened elm leaves.

Just in case someone out there can identify what type of moths or butterflies these become, here are some closer views:

Little green caterpillar number 1.

Little green caterpillar number 2.

I can’t identify the caterpillars, but I do know they taste good to birds. During the past week, we’ve seen 23 kinds of warblers feeding in and under our elm trees:

Golden-winged Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Northern Parula

Yellow Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Palm Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

American Redstart

Ovenbird

Northern Waterthrush

Mourning Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Canada Warbler

Feeding along with the warblers we’ve seen:

Yellow-throated Vireo, Warbling Vireo, and Red-eyed Vireo

Veery, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Swainson’s Thrush

Gray Catbird

Summer Tanager and Scarlet Tanager

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Indigo Bunting

and Baltimore Oriole

These birds are all spring migrants. The Catbird is the only one who’s likely to stay and nest in our neighborhood. The caterpillars in our elm trees have helped them survive and refuel before the next night with southerly winds to speed them on their journey north.

Did I mention that last week we found thousands of tiny caterpillar poops on our cars each morning? The polite term for caterpillar poop is frass. This morning our cars were almost frass-free, although there was lots of bird poop on our windshields.

We’ll finally get some southerly winds later this week, so we expect most migrant birds to continue north. In their wake we expect our elms to enjoy an almost caterpillar-free summer.

Now if we could just find a biological control for the bark beetles that spread Dutch Elm Disease….

Look What’s Falling from Our Elm Trees!

Every spring there are a few days in late April and early May when we see warblers in the streets, feeding on something. Two years ago it happened in late April, as seen in these photos of Yellow-rumped Warblers on our south Oak Park  block:

Yellow-rumped Warblers feeding on South Elmwood Street, April 27, 2009

Yellow-rumped Warbler on South Elmwood Street, April 27, 2009

Well, it’s been happening again the past few days. It’s like a block party for the birds, and it got me wondering–what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? What tasty things are the warblers feeding on?

My best guess was that there was some sort of insect feeding on the opening leaves of the American Elms that tower over many sections of our block. Every spring there are also warblers feeding on something in the treetops, and every year there are tiny holes chewed in the leaves:

American Elm leaves - note the insect-chewed holes.

So, I was thinking that maybe whatever was feeding on the leaves somehow fell to the ground, where sharp-eyed warblers could spot them on the asphalt and continue their meals.

To test my hypothesis, I placed a white plastic lid where it could catch whatever was falling. I left it there from late afternoon yesterday until early this morning:

White plastic lid set up to catch whatever fell from the elms. May 4, 2011

Then, this morning, I brought the lid inside to see what I could find. It was covered with tiny, pale yellow grub-like insect larvae!

Tiny, pale yellow grub-like insect larvae that fell onto the lid

Closer view of grub-like insect larvae

So, one question answered: That’s what’s falling from the trees, and probably what the warblers are eating. But many questions remain:

  • What are these things? Hatchling caterpillars, or some other kind of insect?
  • Why are so many falling from the trees? Shouldn’t they be better adapted to hang onto the leaves? Or do they “jump” whenever a bird is picking at their leaf?
  • Once they hit the ground, they are still alive–you can see them moving. Can they somehow continue to live on the ground, perhaps feeding on fallen elm leaves and elm seeds? If so, when they are larger and stronger, would they climb back up into the trees?

So, I guess our next challenge is to try to raise a bunch of the larvae until they are large enough to identify. And once they are bigger we can put some of them at the base of an elm tree and see what happens.

I’ll let you know what happens!

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A few hours I posted this, a Facebook friend and garden designer made this comment (Thanks, René!):

“I’m no entomologist, but after some research, my best guess is Elm Leaf Beetle. These guys feed on elms and drop to the ground in large numbers as little yellow guys to pupate. Sounds like the yellow-rumped Warblers are doing a good job of natural pest control.”

Here’s a photo of Elm Leaf Beetle damage: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/X/I-CO-XLUT-CD.004.html
Here’s a drawing of the Elm Leaf Beetle life cycle: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pni7403-2.html
Here’s a photo of some Elm Leaf Beetle pupae: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/X/I-CO-XLUT-EA.001.html

We’ve put some of our fallen larvae (or whatever) into a plastic box with newly opened leaves–now we’ll see what happens!

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Here are links to our earlier blog posts about birds in our streets:

Coyote Returns to Columbus Park!

When we first started birding at Columbus Park almost four years ago, Coyotes were year-round residents in the Park. We used to find their tracks crossing the snow-covered golf course, and we sometimes saw the Coyotes if we arrived early in the morning. Some folks even said they had seen a Coyote den in the Park.

Then about 14 months ago, Coyotes disappeared from the Park. The last time I saw one there was December 18, 2008. So, I was very pleased this morning when I saw a Coyote just standing there in the middle of the golf course:

Coyote, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, February 19, 2010.
The Coyote was just standing there in the middle of Columbus Park golf course.

I only had the Sony DSC-H50 camera, with its 15 times zoom, so my photos only hint at how beautiful it was:

Coyote, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, February 19, 2010.
The Coyote kept an eye me and everything else that moved or made noise around the edges of the golf course.

Coyote, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, February 19, 2010.
I tried to sneak closer by walking up behind the golf-course sanctuary prairie, but no such luck. When I peeked around the dried wildflowers, it was gone.

So, what’s a Coyote going to eat in Columbus Park? This past summer and fall we saw lots more Cottontail Rabbits than usual, and there are still lots of Gray and Fox Squirrels in the Park. Also, the snow is melting, and small flocks of Canada Geese have been returning to feed on exposed grass. Later this spring there may be 500 or more geese visiting the Park each day. For a lighter snack, there are often 40 or 50 Mourning Doves roosting on the south sides of wooded areas. Today they were just sitting on the ground, soaking up the sunlight. If all else fails, there’s usually something edible in the trash bins near the food bank, and some folks scatter bread to feed the wildlife.

So, it seems an enterprising Coyote could make a life for itself in this Chicago city park. We’ll see if this one sticks around.

—-

For lots more information about the Coyotes that live in the Chicago area, check out The Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project: Urban Coyote Ecology and Management.

More Great Horned Owl Pellets at Columbus Park

It’s been a busy month at work, but this morning, for the first time in two weeks, I monitored birds at Columbus Park. I saw 13 species of birds, including a Red-tailed Hawk whose tail was a mix of banded juvenile feathers and bright red adult feathers. However, I did not see the on-again-off-again Great Horned Owl who sometimes roosts in an oak tree on the west side of the Park. (Read about it here.)

I always enjoy seeing the owl, but when the owl’s gone I’m not too sad, because then I can search for owl pellets under its roosting tree. The pellets I’ve found so far (shown in this post) contained a mix of medium and small mammal bones, but no teeth. So I figured the owl was feeding on squirrel, rabbit, or maybe possum-sized mammals. Since I can’t often identify bones to species, I was really hoping to find some owl pellets with teeth or jar bones, which I often can identify. Today I lucked out:

Great Horned Owl pellets, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, January 31, 2010
Pellets spit out by the Great Horned Owl who sometimes roosts in Columbus Park. The large, snow-crusted pellet on the right includes a lower jaw. (Taken with my iPhone.)

Here’s a closer look at the jaw:

Owl pellet with rabbit jaw, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, January 31, 2010
I dug the jaw out of the frozen pellet so I could see the teeth. With the front gnawing teeth and grinding cheek teeth exposed, I recognized it as the mandible (lower jaw) of a Cottontail Rabbit. (Taken with my iPhone.)

Go here to see a photo of a complete Cottontail Rabbit skull with mandible.

This fall we had lots more rabbits than normal in Columbus Park, and I’d noticed gnawing damage to shrubs and small trees that was probably the work of rabbits. My neighbors in Oak Park had also noticed more rabbits in their yards this year and complained about damage to their gardens.  So, now there’s evidence that our Great Horned Owl is bringing the rabbit population back to normal.

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Here are links to information and activities about owl pellets:

A January Walk through Columbus Park

As I monitored birds this morning in Columbus Park, I did an experiment. I took photos with my iPhone and uploaded them live to Facebook. It was kind of like a virtual nature walk!

Here the link to the public Facebook album with this morning’s photos:  A January Walk through Columbus Park.

Please let me know what you think!