Saturday, May 13, was World Migratory Bird Day, and the Evanston Ecology Center recognized the important occasion this year with a bird identification walk through Ladd Arboretum along the North Shore Channel.  

Miles Faiella, with his trusty companion, Tippy the Bear, focuses his binoculars on a bird. Credit: Jim Brown

Each year, hundreds of different bird species travel along the Mississippi Flyway, a route connecting Canada and the United States to locations in Mexico, Central and South America, for spring and fall migration. During that time nearly 300 bird species rely on the healthy habitats found in the Forest Preserves of Cook County as well as parks and green spaces throughout the Chicagoland area.

The Evanston lakefront and the riparian habitat along the North Shore Channel are particularly attractive to migrating birds. With the spring migration currently in full swing, now is an excellent time to see many birds not native to Evanston.

A group of 19 bird lovers gathered on Saturday morning at the ecology center for the tour. The group was made up of young and old, and both beginning and experienced birders. Fay Coombes, program instructor for the center, led the group.

The center provided participants with binoculars, clipboards, diary sheets for tracking identified birds and a Summer Chicago Birds Field Guide. Coombes has worked with the ecology center for a year. She has a background in urban planning, criminology and environmental studies. 

The group spread out as it wandered through the Ladd Arboretum at McCormick Boulevard. When someone spotted a bird, though, the group crowded together, with heads focused on the trees and fingers pointing to the location of said bird. There were whispered exclamations as people noticed different bird species.

In addition to the field guides provided by the ecology center, several participants used an online bird identification application called Merlin, which was developed by the Cornell Ornithology Lab. You can download Merlin on your phone for free. The app identifies each bird by description, sound or photograph. 

Among the birds identified on Saturday morning’s walk were the Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Common Rod Poll, Redwing Blackbird, Black and White Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Chipping Sparrow, Indigo Bunting and Common Grackle. 

If you’re interested in helping birds during their biennial migration, here are some things you can do:

  • Plant native plants – Native flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees provide habitat for birds and pollinators like bees and butterflies.
  • Keep cats indoors – Free-ranging domestic cats kill an estimated 1.3 billion to 4 billion birds each year.
  • Make windows safe – Birds often try to fly through transparent windows or reflections of the sky or surrounding plants. Reduce transparency and reflectivity by using blinds, window films or decals. 
  • Avoid pesticides – From rat poison to insecticides, pesticides impact more than just their targets. Studies show that these poisons can move up the food chain and kill birds, pollinators and other wildlife. 

If you want to learn more about birds in the Chicagoland area, and how you can help birds during their seasonal migration, check out this link.

Jim Brown is a feature writer for the Evanston RoundTable. He is an avid conservationist, birder, nature photographer and is interested in all things Evanston. Jim will initially write about Evanston businesses...

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