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)
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
A Brown Creeper scooted up a tree trunk along Wisconsin Avenue in search of tiny insects on the bark.
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.
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.
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.
And this White-crowned Sparrow ate dandelion seeds on a lawn just north of Euclid Square Park.
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.
And this female Baltimore Oriole was eating pulp from halved clementines I had staked out above the platform feeder.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By June 23rd, the nestling hawks at Wisconsin Avenue had grown flight feathers and practiced stretching their wings.
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…..
…and one of its siblings had already left the nest and was perched on a nearby branch.
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.
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.
This mother House Sparrow found bugs in someone’s lawn to feed her fledgling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And this American Robin was finding lots of ripe fruit in Rehm Park.
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.
And Golden-crowned Kinglets foraged for tiny insects on this hackberry trunk and in a nearby pine tree. (
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.
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.
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.
Downy Woodpeckers usually find their own food on trees in south Oak Park, although they will also visit suet feeders.
This male House Finch was eating seeds in a Katsura tree at Rehm Park playground.
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.
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.
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.
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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