Yellow-billed cuckoo   Photo by Tamima Itani at Perkins Woods


The warblers are here! This fall has been a strange migration season. Usually September will guarantee that warblers will be flitting through the trees, but this year, the birds seemed to be holding off their trips south or flying right over or around us. The weather was mild, and the north winds that birds use to their advantage were absent.  Finally, the temperature dipped a bit. More migrants were reported at Skokie Lagoons (along with good numbers of mosquitoes), Botanic Gardens and Northwestern University’s campus.

The year-round resident birds had been very active during the week of September 12.  Even in early afternoon, not the time you would expect to see lots of birds, the blue Jays, Grackles, Ruby-throated hummingbirds, Goldfinches, Cardinals, and even a migrating Flicker made my back yard very colorful and noisy.  While the Flicker poked away for insects in a hole in an elm tree branch, the other birds were enjoying ripening seeds and berries.  A large flock of robins was especially busy, flying from the birdbath to my neighbor’s hackberry tree to feast on the tiny blue “drupes” that had apparently ripened just to their taste.

All birds, resident and migrating, had been scarce on Evanston North Shore Bird Club’s weekly Thursday morning bird walks in Perkins Woods, so we did not know what to expect on Thurs., Sept. 27. At 7:30 in the morning for the fourth walk of the month, 14 hopeful people gathered at the corner of Grant Street and Ewing Avenue, with Josh Engel of Red Hill Birding ready to lead. Immediately the birds began to appear.

Walking through the woods and along the perimeter, we saw 36 species, among them 11 species of warblers (Black-and white, Wilson’s, Magnolia, Black-throated green, Black-throated blue, Blackpoll, Tennessee, Northern Parula, Ovenbird, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided), two species of vireos (Blue-headed and Philadelphia) and, the highlight of the walk, great looks at a Yellow-billed cuckoo (pictured here.)

Then, on Saturday morning, Sept. 29, a seasoned Chicago Bird Collision Monitor reported from Northwestern, “I have never seen this many warblers in the bushes and the landscaping.”  Students surveying the trees in Perkins Woods saw birds everywhere.

If the birds are at Perkins Woods and Northwestern, they could be moving anywhere in Evanston, including your back or front yard. This is to suggest which birds should be migrating through now and that anyone can see them. Watch the skies for hawks, watch the sidewalks and shrubs for White-throated sparrows and watch for movement of thrushes and warblers even in our parkway and park trees. Although the colors of the fall warblers aren’t as brilliant as in spring, it is still exciting to know that our hometown is on a major flyway and continues to be a favored route for birds.

If you have windows that might be a hazard to these long-distance migrants because they reflect nearby trees, you can learn how to help birds avoid them from Bird Friendly Evanston. And, Chicago Bird Collision Monitors needs more monitors for Northwestern buildings.

More information about both is online at

Libby Hill

Libby Hill is the author of "The Chicago River: a Natural and Unnatural History. She has been writing about birds and trees and Evanston's natural history for the Roundtable since 2004.