Wild Chicago

Is Nature Boardwalk an urban oasis for local wildlife? As countless bird sightings, mammal tracks and turtle-telemetry readings over the past two years have told us, the answer is yes.

As you may have seen, researchers are busy at Nature Boardwalk throughout the year. Binoculars, radio transmitters, contact paper, camera traps and, yes, “keg cups” are the tools they’ve used to make the case for Nature Boardwalk being a “functional urban pond ecosystem.”

A winter look at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo

Even in winter, Nature Boardwalk provides a home to local wildlife.

Those are the words of Urban Wildlife Institute Director Seth Magle, Ph.D., who stresses that designation is rare. In an area as urban as Lincoln Park Zoo, with as much foot traffic as we get, the diversity of wildlife we see is almost unheard of.

But the numbers speak for themselves. 130 different bird species have passed through the site in the past two years. Just this year we saw 20 species for the first time since construction, including indigo buntings and yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Baltimore orioles nested successfully for the first time. Black-crowned night herons, which are endangered in Illinois, have continued to thrive in the area—including a few who’ve decided to stay here over the winter.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker, likely a juvenile, spotted in summer 2012 at Nature Boardwalk. Photo by Mason Fidino.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker, likely a juvenile, spotted in summer 2012 at Nature Boardwalk. Photo by Mason Fidino.

The painted turtles we introduced have recolonized the pond (along with a stray snapper who has settled in). We’ve recorded 3,000 locations for the reptiles around the site, IDing where they like to swim and bask.

Contact paper rigged with inkpads has captured tracks from small mammals including eastern gray squirrels—little surprise—and voles. Camera traps are now collecting video of nighttime visitors, like coyotes, to see how they behave. Finally, those cups mentioned above, once buried, offer a great way to sample the wolf spiders and weevils crawling along the ground.

Coyotes captured by a camera trap last December at Nature Boardwalk

Coyotes captured by a camera trap last December at Nature Boardwalk.

This summer we plan to expand our monitoring, getting a closer look at small mammals, pollinators and the tree cavities many birds need to nest. Right now, though, we’re proud to collect the latest award recognizing the transformation we’ve brought about at Nature Boardwalk.

Lincoln Park Zoo was happy to receive a Conservation and Native Landscaping Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency–Great Lakes National Program Office and Chicago Wilderness. The award recognizes exemplary use of natural landscaping, ecological restoration and conservation design—exactly what we looked to achieve with the site.

Seth and Mason accepting the award for Nature Boardwalk.

Seth and Mason accepting the award for Nature Boardwalk.

It’s an honor. One that we can build on in the year ahead with another exciting round of new sightings.

Kevin Bell


Learn More

Lincoln Park Zoo's Nature Boardwalk blog lets you follow along as native plants and animals are spotted in the zoo's urban oasis. Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo Blog
Follow along as native plants and animals are spotted in Lincoln Park Zoo's urban oasis.

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Boardwalk Wildlife

Cool!

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