Call of a Century

If Chicagoans from 1910 visited the zoo today, they wouldn’t find much to recognize. A few buildings remain—Carlson Cottage, Café Brauer, the McCormick Bird House—but the zoo of that era has been transformed and modernized, much like the city around it.

One thing they might recognize, though, are the area’s birds. That’s a thought that came to Urban Wildlife Institute scientists when they discovered a Lincoln Park bird census published in 1910. Would people of that era know the local and migratory birds in the park today? Or had a century of urbanization in the city around it changed bird populations?

To find out, our researchers spent last spring and this one conducting daily bird walks in the park. Following a path approximating that of birders a century ago, Coordinator of Wildlife Management Mason Fidino and his colleagues stop at intervals to record the songs, calls and feathered forms around them.

Zoo researchers Kelvin Limbrick and Mason Fidino conduct their daily bird count.

Zoo researchers Kelvin Limbrick and Mason Fidino conduct their daily bird count.

They’re still collecting data, but early results indicate that most species spotted in the past still pass through the park today. Some frequencies have changed. Blue jays and red-headed woodpeckers were more common in 1910; northern cardinals and Cooper’s hawks are more common today. But early indications suggest the park has provided a refuge for birds, one that was only strengthened with the 2010 creation of Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Nothern cardinals are more common today than a century ago. Photo by Mason Fidino.

Nothern cardinals are more common today than a century ago. Photo by Mason Fidino.

You can see all the birds that have been spotted though the project at a special site they've created to share their findings. I also encourage you to follow the sightings on Twitter at @lpz_uwi.

The fact that we can compare bird sightings a century apart is an impressive display of commitment on both sides of that span. Another group that shows their commitment every day is Lincoln Park Zoo’s wonderful volunteers. As we celebrate National Volunteer Appreciation Week, I’d like to share my personal appreciation for everything they do.

Zoo gardeners beautify zoo grounds

Zoo gardeners beautify zoo grounds

Zoo volunteers direct visitors, educate guests about wildlife, lend a much-needed hand at special events and help maintain our beautiful landscape. We currently have 356 volunteers donating their time to make the zoo a better place. My thanks to all of them, as what we do 365 days a year wouldn’t be possible without their help.

Kevin Bell

Comments

Bird Sightings

Interesting! I hope that everyone had a nice Earth Day! That goes for last year and all the other years that I've missed.

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