Living Wildlife Friendly on Zoo Grounds

August 4, 2022

Thanks to the multitude of green open spaces as well as its location along a migratory bird flyway, Chicago has tremendous biological diversity—from flying squirrels to coyotes and more. But in cities like this, large swaths of concrete, shifted food resources, light and noise pollution, traffic, and other factors can sometimes create human-wildlife conflicts. 

Lincoln Park Zoo is committed to creating environments where wildlife will thrive in our urbanizing world. What measures is the zoo taking to coexist with wildlife? Below, discover how Lincoln Park Zoo is living wildlife friendly on zoo grounds and explore how you can too.

Caring for Local Wildlife 

Each year, the zoo hosts a wild colony of endangered black-crowned night herons in the treetops above Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo. The Lincoln Park Zoo colony has grown to be the largest in the state of Illinois and has become a fixture of the zoo. To give the colony privacy as the birds raise chicks, the zoo temporarily closes Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo and monitors the colony to further the conservation and ecological understanding of the species.  

During the 2022 black-crowned night heron monitoring season, Urban Wildlife Institute (UWI) researchers detected around 750 adult black-crowned night herons and 400 hatch year herons —making this the largest and most reproductively successful that the Chicago colony has been since UWI began monitoring the population in 2010! Additionally, the UWI team banded 15 hatch year herons during the 2022 breeding season to help understand these animals’ annual movements.

Black-crowned night herons. Photo courtesy of Henry Adams.

Monitoring Biodiversity 

UWI monitors local wildlife through the usage of motion-activated cameras and acoustic monitors on zoo grounds and throughout Chicago. UWI researchers work closely with Animal Care experts, Veterinary staff, the Horticulture team, and Grounds and Maintenance to confirm sightings of wildlife on grounds and to identify the potential for interactions with zoo species or the zoo’s plant collections.  

Lincoln Park Zoo prioritizes coexistence with local species and supports letting wildlife remain on the zoo’s grounds when possible. UWI researchers use their knowledge of the behavioral ecologies of local wildlife to inform their coexistence strategies and work closely with other staff to come up with viable solutions.  

These solutions to foster co-existence include: avoiding activity in the particular area that wildlife is inhabiting, fencing off an area to prevent wildlife from interacting with zoo species, and protecting certain trees or plantings so they aren’t used by wildlife as food. At Nature Boardwalk, for example, the zoo’s Horticulture team may wrap a rigid mesh fencing around the trees to protect them from being chewed by beavers.

Lincoln Park Zoo is often home to wild animals as well! This image of a coyote on zoo grounds was captured by one of UWI’s motion-activated cameras.

Managing Natural Areas 

Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo is an urban oasis teeming with life, all thanks to the zoo’s mighty Horticulture team. This serene, prairie-style wetland surrounded by a meandering boardwalk and native plants and trees is a spot favored by local wildlife—including birds, frogs, fish, turtles, insects, and more. All along the Boardwalk, the Horticulture team has planted various species of milkweed to support pollinator populations. Downed trees (trees that have fallen via a storm or other natural cause) are left alone at the Boardwalk to create habitats for local species. 

While walking around Nature Boardwalk, you may notice spots that “look” overgrown and neglected. These spaces are native plant communities that appear that way, and it’s natural for the species. Horticulture staff members also use limited pesticides at Nature Boardwalk and on grounds. 

Additionally, throughout the zoo, monoculture lawn has been replaced with a diversity of plants to increase habitat space for wildlife and to attract pollinators. While journeying around the zoo, visitors may notice areas that appear unmaintained and full of weeds. These areas are actually natural patches of native plants that support wildlife; looks can be deceiving! 

At first glance, these patches on the zoo’s grounds appear to be weeds. However, they are native plants that support wildlife!

How Can You Join Lincoln Park Zoo in Living Wildlife Friendly? 

Regardless of where you live, small choices can make a big impact on wildlife.  

Remember to observe and do not disturb. Refrain from feeding or touching wildlife, and keep wild animals safe by maintaining your distance.  

Just like the zoo plants native species to attract pollinators, you can too! Transform your yard into a wildlife haven by planting native species, like milkweed, and adding trees and shrubs to create a diverse, multi-layered habitat. 

When visiting natural areas, be sure to stay on the designated path and avoid stepping on plants and disrupting wildlife.  

Urban animals can grow dependent on garbage—if it’s accessible. Do not leave garbage around when spending time outdoors. Additionally, check your garbage cans or dumpsters for holes or other damage. 

Together, we can successfully coexist with wildlife in our urbanizing world.  

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