Spring Migration Begins at Douglass Park!

As temperatures climb and the snow melts away, migratory birds are returning to Douglass Park! I found four recent returnees and a few other interesting birds on my most recent visit to the park on Thursday, March 4th.

Rob Andrade recorded the park’s first Red-winged Blackbird of the year back on February 27th.  This male blackbird was singing in a sanctuary tree on Thursday.

I saw my first Ring-billed Gull of 2021 flying over the Douglass Park lagoons on February 28th. There were at least 15 Ring-billed Gulls in the park on Thursday, including these two on the soccer field.

When I heard a Killdeer over the park back in January, it was rapidly flying south, probably trying to escape the winter’s first big snowfall. On Thursday, these four Killdeer and three others were foraging on the lawn just north of the COVID-19 testing station before continuing their northward migration.

Mallard ducks abandoned Douglass Park when the lagoons froze over in mid January. This Mallard pair was back on Thursday, dabbling in open water at the east edge of the otherwise frozen Lily Pond.

As the lagoon waters slowly melt, it’s open season on dead fish! This American Crow picked a fairly fresh dead catfish from open water at the edge of north lagoon.

Once the fish was securely in its grasp, it was time to begin the meal.

Two Herring Gulls found a decaying catfish in the southeast lagoon’s ice.

Gulls have strong stomachs and will eat all kinds of awful things!

A couple of American Crows were interested in what the gulls were eating.

But Herring Gulls are large and mean, so the crows flew to north lagoon and searched for their own dead fish in the melting ice.

Looks like the crow on the right found something…

…and it walked away, hoping the other crows would let it eat its piece of fish in peace.

You can see my complete eBird list from Thursday morning, March 4th, here: https://ebird.org/bcn/checklist/S82748904

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Surviving Winter in Douglass Park

Inspired by Neal’s snowy visit to the south side of Douglass Park on Friday morning, I decided to post some photos from my visit to the park on Saturday morning, February 20th. I found some nature! There were 11 species of birds that had survived the recent bitter cold and continuing snow, but some of them were doing unnatural things.

In addition to the usual pigeons and House Sparrows around Mt. Sinai Hospital, I also found a small flock of American Tree Sparrows foraging on plowed pavement by the tennis courts. Other south-of-Ogden birds were a Downy Woodpecker, cardinal, and flyover Herring Gull.

I did not try to walk in the deep snow inside the sanctuary fence, but I did hear cardinals calling and singing at the edges of the golf course. This male cardinal posed for a bit in a small tree at the west edge of the golf course.

I found this Red-bellied Woodpecker plucking bugs from the bark and wood on trees just east of the iron bridge.

There were also a bunch of other birds just east of the iron bridge, but they weren’t eating their usual natural foods, like bugs and seeds. Park visitors had dumped their leftover fast food at the edges of the road, and the Downy Woodpeckers and Dark-eyed Juncos were taking advantage of the unnatural food source.

This Black-capped Chickadee flew down and started picking bits from the same bread the Downy Woodpecker had been eating.

And a male cardinal also picked at the same piece of bread.

The Dark-eyed Juncos found their own patch of litter, with lots of biscuit crumbles. Elsewhere in the park American Crows were also picking through trash in search of leftovers.

This Gray Squirrel was trying to figure out how to open a container of, what, salad dressing or dipping sauce? (photographed on February 20, 2021)

Just to be clear, I don’t encourage littering Douglass Park with leftovers from your fast-food meals. If the birds run out of natural food in the park, they will just fly elsewhere, like the Canada Geese did when the snow got too deep. But it was kind of interesting to see that urban birds found urban ways to survive an urban winter.

My full eBird list from Saturday morning is here: https://ebird.org/bcn/checklist/S82013106

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January birds in Douglass Park

Every time I visited Douglass Park during January 2021, I found at least a dozen different kinds of birds. They ranged in size from tiny chickadees and goldfinches to tall Great Blue Herons and lumbering Canada Geese. They were eating wildflower seeds, crab apple fruits, lawn grasses, insects hibernating on and inside trees, and sometimes other birds and mammals.

This album includes photos of some of the birds I saw in Douglass Park during my January visits. Go here to see my Saturday January 30th eBird list, with 16 bird species and more photos: https://ebird.org/bcn/checklist/S80142751

And this link takes you to a list of all 22 species of birds reported in Douglass Park during January 2021: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L108460?m=1&yr=cur&changeDate=

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Although the return of large flocks of American Robins to Douglass Park will be a sign of spring, this lone robin never left the park! Instead, he has been camped out in some crab apple trees along Ogden Avenue. The trees provide both fruit to eat and tangled branches for protection from hawks.

(photographed on January 23, 2021)

American Crows hang out in Douglass Park year-round and even nest here in the summer. These crows were foraging by the Cultural Center parking lot.

(photographed on January 23, 2021)

When not looking for food, crows look for hawks to harass. This time they found the young Red-tailed Hawk that has been spending the winter in and around Douglass Park.

(photographed on January 23, 2021)

Looking at tracks in the golf course snow, it’s clear that there are lots of rabbits this year, which may be why the young Red-tailed Hawk is sticking with the park.

(photographed on January 23, 2021)

After the crows harassed the young Red-tailed Hawk, they found this young Red-shouldered Hawk in a different part of the park. The crow calls led me to the hawk, which I otherwise might have missed seeing.

(photographed on January 23, 2021)

The abundant summer and fall wildflowers in Douglass Park’s meadows produced enough seeds to feed several types of native sparrows this winter. This Swamp Sparrow usually hangs out in the dried wildflowers and reeds at the edges of the lagoon, but on Saturday it was searching for wind-blown seeds on a plowed sidewalk.

(photographed on January 30, 2021)

Song Sparrows have also been spending the winter in Douglass Park, including this one photographed in the dried reeds at the edge of sanctuary lagoon.

(photographed on January 23, 2021)

A couple of waves of migrating American Tree Sparrows swept through the park during late fall and winter, eating seeds still on the wildflowers, on the soil, or on paved paths.

(photographed on January 19, 2021)

Dark-eyed Juncos are usually the most common winter sparrow in the park. If you look long enough, you can almost always find a flock or two.

(photographed on January 23, 2021)

Juncos usually eat wildflower seeds, but they will also scavenge bits of bread or cereal that people leave behind. These two juncos were picking at the hunk of bread until a Black-capped Chickadee appropriated it.

(photographed on January 4, 2021)

More often the park’s chickadees hunt insects on tree bark, sometimes accompanied by this White-breasted Nuthatch.

(photographed on January 23, 2021)

Canada Goose flocks have been swarming the park’s lawns when they are clear of snow, then resting on the lagoons, whether they are open water or frozen. But the geese head elsewhere when the snow gets deeper than a few inches. By the way, these signs are why I call the fenced part of the park the sanctuary – it’s much more than just a golf course.

(photographed on January 12, 2021)

The Canada Goose with plastic leg band A873 is one of those geese that returns to Douglass Park in winter as long as there is grass accessible. She has been returning since at least the winter of 2014-2015. Banding records say she is at least 11 years old, but I first saw her six years ago.

(photographed on January 12, 2021)

I guess the ice finally got too thick on Douglass Park’s lagoons, because the Great Blue Heron that had been fishing under the old stone bridge has not been reported on eBird since January 19th. The heron could have flown south, or maybe it headed east or west to a local river with open water.

(photographed on January 8, 2021)

And this remainder from last summer is also a reminder of things to come once the weather warms. It’s a Baltimore Oriole nest, built in a small tree by one of the lagoons. Baltimore Orioles have nested in Douglass Park at least as long as I have been visiting to count birds, and we expect them back again this summer.

(photographed on January 30, 2021)

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A Winter Heron in Douglass Park

I have a little story to tell with these photos….

Back on Monday, January 4th, even though the lagoons were almost completely frozen over, a Great Blue Heron was still perched on the east end of the island in Douglass Park’s north lagoon. It was an adult heron, so I had reason to hope it knew what it was doing, but I still worried about it.

I guess I should not have worried, because on Friday morning, January 8th, I saw the Great Blue Heron on the ice with a catfish in its beak.

The heron had to work its catfish into position….

…so it could swallow the it head first.

By swallowing it head first…

…the catfish’s sharp spines could do no damage to the heron’s throat.

Investigating further, I discovered that the Great Blue Heron was fishing at a patch of open water under the old stone bridge.

I also discovered that this winter’s juvenile Red-tailed Hawk was perched in a tree right above the stone bridge…

…keeping an eye on the Great Blue Heron.

Now I have something else to worry about.

Go here to find out about the other birds seen in Douglass Park on H=January 8, 2021: https://ebird.org/bcn/checklist/S78895009

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(This story was originally published on the Nature in Douglass Park Facebook group on January 9, 2021.)

Baby Birds and their Parents, 2017

2017 was another great summer for nesting birds at Douglas Park! More than 20 kinds of birds raised their babies in the park. A half dozen other bird species captured food in the park and took it to their babies in far-off nests. Now those mostly-grown babies (like herons and gulls) have come to Douglas Park to find their own food

The photos below show baby birds in their nests (nestlings), birds that have just left their nests (fledglings), and birds that have their own special baby names (ducklings and goslings). There are also photos of parent birds singing near their nests, feeding their babies, and protecting their young.



Mother Cooper’s Hawk at her nest, bit of a fuzzy white nestling visible


Parent Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (in front) just fed its fledgling


Fledgling Gray Catbird in the sanctuary


Young Cooper’s Hawk almost ready to leave the nest.


Mother Cooper’s Hawk protecting her fledglings


Father American Robin has food for his babies.


Young Black-crowned Night-Heron in Douglas Park, left its nest at Lincoln Park Zoo


Mother Baltimore Oriole, just fed her nestlings


Fledgling American Robin waiting for a parent to bring a meal


Young Downy Woodpecker looking for food on tree trunks


Young Brown-headed Cowbird finding its own food on the lawn


Young Common Grackle finding its own food on the lawn


Fledgling Barn Swallow watching its parents catch flying insects for it to eat


Young Great Blue Heron on the sanctuary lagoon


Mother Pied-billed Grebe caught a fish for her baby


Mallard ducklings


Canada Goose gosling


Parent Eastern Phoebe with beak full of bugs for its babies


Mother Pied-billed Grebe leads her eight babies


Young European Starling taking a rest break


Fledgling Eastern Kingbirds waiting for a parent to bring a meal


Young Ring-billed Gull looking for snacks on the soccer field


Father Indigo Bunting singing

Monarch Butterflies in Douglas Park, 2017

We saw lots of Monarch butterflies in Douglas Park druing the summer and early fall of 2017!

During June and July, we often saw Monarchs sipping nectar on milkweed flowers, especially on Swamp Milkweed that grows at the edges of the lagoons. These Monarchs probably laid their eggs on the park’s milkweed plants. During August and September, we saw Monarchs fueling up on nectar from many other kinds of wildflowers. These later Monarchs were probably migrating south to Mexico.

Here are some photos of Monarch butterflies on wildflowers, taken during 2017 in Douglas Park:

According to the following DNAInfo article, many other Chicago area residents reported seeing more Monarchs during the summer of 2017:  Monarch Butterflies Flying High This Year After Recent Declines





Summer Wildflowers 2017

We found lots of wildflowers in Douglas Park’s Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary during the summer of 2017! This slide show includes many of the wildflowers that have bloomed that summer in the park’s meadow and prairie habitats.

These photos were taken from early June through the first few days of August, 2017. The photos include a mix of wildflowers that grew in Chicago before it became a city and flowers that originated elsewhere in the world.

If you want to explore Douglas Park’s wildflowers on your own, this guide from the Field Museum will help you identify them: http://fieldguides.fieldmuseum.org/sites/default/files/rapid-color-guides-pdfs/cpd_prairies_guide_0.pdf

Go here to see what bloomed in Douglas Park during 2016: https://douglasparknature.org/wildflowers/




Breeding Birds of 2017: Pied-billed Grebes

Pied-billed Grebes successfully reared their young on the Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary lagoon last summer. All through this spring we wondered, could they do it again?


By early April there were two Pied-billed Grebes hanging out together on the sanctuary lagoon. (April 8, 2017)


But after mid April we only saw one grebe, always alone. We sometimes heard it sing, but we were concerned that we never saw a second grebe. (April 17, 2017)


Then in mid May we saw an encouraging sign. The lone Pied-billed Grebe approached a small flock of Hooded Mergansers…..


…and then attacked, chasing them off! Male Pied-billed Grebes defend their territories against both other grebes and ducks of all kinds. So maybe this grebe was on territory, and its mate was on a nest hidden somewhere in the reeds and cattails. (May 16, 2017)


But then, for more a month, we saw only one grebe on the lagoon. It sang most days we visited the park, but we wondered what was happening with its mate. (May 29, 2017)


Finally, on June 18, we saw the mother grebe with eight half-grown young!  She must have kept her brood hidden in the reeds for several weeks, at least when we were in the park. (June 18. 2017)


The mother grebe was still a bit shy with her young. As soon as she saw us, she had them line up behind her and follow her back into the reeds. We did not see them again for the rest of the day. (June 18, 2017).


For the next few weeks we saw the grebe family during each of our visits to the park. Usually they stayed far out on the lagoon, with the mom staying close to the young grebes. (June 26, 2017)


The mother grebe caught small catfish to feed her young ones….


,,,passing the fish to the young grebes and then swimming nearby to make sure everything went well.


This time, the catfish proved a challenge for the young grebe. The fish was dropped at least three times, but each time the mother re-caught the catfish and passed it back to the young grebe….


…until finally the fish was successfully swallowed! (July 11, 2017)


By the second week in July, some of the young grebes were already catching and swallowing small catfish on their own. So it looks like the parent grebes have had another successful year raising young on the sanctuary lagoon! (July 11, 2017)

You can learn more about Pied-billed Grebes here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Pied-billed_Grebe/lifehistory

Follow this link to hear the song of the Pied-billed Grebe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVPAXlH7vHw