If you love bird-watching in the spring, summer and fall, don’t stop during the winter season because there is a whole host of avian characters to observe in the colder months.
“You can see birds during winter that you can’t see any other time of the year,” said Chris Gutmann, facility supervisor at the Forest Preserve’s Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville.
Winter provides an opportunity to spot rare species that hail from up north. For instance, a common redpoll was spotted at Isle a la Cache last year. The small finch traveled south from the tundra of northern Canada or Alaska to winter in the Midwest, Gutmann explained.
“This is ‘going south for the winter’ for them,” he said.
Snowy owls and northern harriers also head to the Will County area in winter. Dark-eyed juncos fly south too from colder climes to spend winter in the United States, which is why they are called “snowbirds.”
Bald eagles are a species that is easier to spot in the winter as they “zip up and down the rivers” searching for food, Gutmann said.
“Bald eagles can be seen almost daily here in the winter,” Gutmann said of Isle a la Cache, which is adjacent to the Des Plaines River. “We already have three, and last winter we identified at least six different individuals using this corridor.”
Eagles also are known to inhabit the Forest Preserve District’s McKinley Woods, which is located where the Kankakee, Des Plaines and DuPage rivers join to form the Illinois River in Channahon.
Some of the ducks that stay behind in winter are called diving ducks because they can dive into unfrozen river waters to search for fish during the cold months.
“As lakes and ponds start freezing, we start getting winter waterfowl,” Gutmann said. “The most abundant species at Isle a la Cache tend to be common goldeneyes and common mergansers. Diving ducks perform courtship rituals in the winter, so every duck is in its best plumage and they put on these wild courting displays.”
Isle a la Cache hosts other winter bird residents — such as this house finch — that make bird-watching more fun for those willing to venture out in the cold.
Other birding programs scheduled for winter include:
Four Rivers Environmental Education Center, Channahon – “Bird Talk and Viewing” from 9-10:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 11.
Monee Reservoir, Monee Township – “Morning Bird Hike” from 8-10 a.m. Saturday, February 25.
(Photo of red-bellied woodpecker by Glenn P. Knoblock)