BUNDLE UP FOR WINTER BIRDING There's plenty to observe throughout the Forest Preserve District of Will County during the colder months

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.

This young bald eagle was spotted at McKinley Woods in November. (Photo courtesy of Michael Fagan)
“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.

Clockwise from top: A red bellied woodpecker, a house finch and goldfinches are included in the types of winter birds that can be seen at Isle a la Cache. (Photos by Glenn P. Knoblock)
“American kestrels, a beautiful little falcon, are common in this preserve in the winter, too,” Gutmann said. “They’re year-round residents in the area, but they use this preserve more intensely in the winter. In warmer months, they shift back to their normal prairie habitat.”

During winter, bird-watchers can also spy nuthatches, woodpeckers, sparrows and a wide variety of the hundreds of species that call North America home. Rusty blackbirds, a bird that is on the decline in numbers, also will hang around through late fall.

“Birders get excited when they see them,” Gutmann said.

Bird lovers who are interested in learning more about spying these species in winter are invited to sign up for the Forest Preserve District’s “Winter Birding 101” program, which is scheduled for 8:30-10 a.m. on Saturday, December 17, at Isle a la Cache, 501 E. Romeo Road. The program will address the six essentials of bird watching and identification: size, shape, shade, sound, sweep and setting.

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.

Isle a la Cache, Romeoville – “Winter Bird Walk” from 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, February 4; “Hoot Hike” searching for owls from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, February 9;

Monee Reservoir, Monee Township – “Morning Bird Hike” from 8-10 a.m. Saturday, February 25.

Plum Creek Nature Center, Crete Township – “Morning Bird Hike” from 8-10 a.m. on Saturday, January 21; “Night Hike: Owls” from 3:30-6 p.m. Saturday, January 28.

(Photo of red-bellied woodpecker by Glenn P. Knoblock)

For registration deadlines and more information about these programs and others, visit the District’s Event Calendar.

(Lead bald eagle image via Wikipedia Commons)

17540 W. Laraway Road, Joliet, IL 60433


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