Preparing the Island for Spring

This week zoo horticulturists and wildlife biologists teamed up to prepare the island at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo for spring 2012. It’s important to manage this habitat this far in advance because of some very special visitors we expect may return to the island around April of next year: black-crowned night herons.


Mike Davenport and Vicky Hunt pull the boat ashore. Photo by Mason Fidino

For several years, a colony of these birds has returned to the area around Nature Boardwalk to nest and raise their young before migrating south for the colder winter months. Black-crowned night herons are endangered in Illinois, so we take particular care to minimize disturbance to the colony when it’s in the Lincoln Park area during breeding season.

In recent years, the first birds to arrive on the scene have initially gone to the island. The birds have then continued to use nest-building resources from the island throughout the breeding season, even as they build nests in two tree lines just south of Nature Boardwalk. Recognizing this, we want to take care of any work on the island in advance of the approaching snow and the herons’ spring arrival.

Getting to the island to do the work entailed rowing through the pond at Nature Boardwalk. Once on the ground, Volunteer Gardening Coordinator Mike Davenport and Director of Horticulture Brian Houck surveyed the current vegetation, identifying plants such as native button bush and black haw.


Buttonbush. Photo by Brian Houck

Black haw. Photo by Brian Houck

The plant experts also spread seeds of swamp loosestrife and yellow coneflower. These two species can be found elsewhere at Nature Boardwalk. In fact, the seeds spread on the island came from plants already growing on the site.

We’ll have to wait until spring to see the results of our work, but it will be well worth the wait!

Vicky Hunt

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