Birding during fall migration is hard. Not only have males of a species exchanged their vibrant breeding colors for a more casual (i.e. drab) look for winter, the often melodious and easily identifiable bird songs I use to help identify a species are now faint and indistinguishable “chip” noises.
Furthermore, as a biologist I know I should be seeing more individuals during the fall, not less. Adult birds fly north in the spring to breed, but they head south in fall along with the new birds that were born.
Difficulties aside, I can’t help but get a little excited every day I go down to Nature Boardwalk to see which species have decided to take a break and refuel before resuming their journey. Either I like the challenge or I’m a glutton for punishment, but the chance to see a rare migrant or a favorite species generally gets me out the door with binoculars at the ready.
Below are a few highlights of the fall season so far. Most of migration may be over, but if you get a chance, take a trip down to Nature Boardwalk to see what you can see!
These very small brown birds are often seen darting around close to the ground or on the vegetation near the edges of a pond. House wrens are by far the most abundant species seen, followed by winter wrens and marsh wrens. House wrens’ bills are much longer and slightly curved compared to the other species.
A winter wren near Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo.
A house wren near Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. This species can be distinguished by its longer, slightly curved bill.
By far one of my favorite species to see or hear around Nature Boardwalk. This waterbird has a distinctive “Ker-wee” call that you cannot mistake for anything else once you’ve heard it.
A sora spotted at Nature Boardwalk last May.
Black-Crowned Night Heron
We have multiple colonies of these birds over the summer, but a few individuals have shown up in late October to stick it out over the winter. I was unsure if we would have winter herons this year, but I saw seven individuals on the island on October 25. Your best chance of seeing them at Nature Boardwalk is at the southeast corner of the island.
A black-crowned night heron flies over Nature Boardwalk last summer. Photo by Roy Slovenko.
Mason Fidino is coordinator of wildlife management for Lincoln Park Zoo's Urban Wildlife Institute.