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More than 250 Bird Species Spotted in the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s “Big Year” Birding Competition

  • Posted by Barrington Hills
  • On March 2, 2017

Press Release from the Forest Preserves of Cook County:

The Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC) are a well-known destination for human visitors but it is also a popular rest stop for thousands of visiting migratory birds. The FPCC’s 2016 Big Year Competition recording more than 250 bird species in the Forest Preserves. Many of these rare birds take refuge here during their winter and spring migratory journeys.

The Busse Woods Big Year team, The Buffleheads, took home first place in the nine-month-long effort to record the most bird species. The Buffleheads recorded nearly 200 species at Busse Woods in Elk Grove Village. A total of 21 teams throughout the preserves recorded their findings at Forest Preserves sites between March 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016.

“This program benefitted from the enthusiastic support of many birders and partner organizations across the county,” explained Judy Pollock of Living Habitats. “Each of the teams added to our knowledge of the bird life of the preserves. For example, we were able to watch the range expansion of the Pileated Woodpecker, and to understand the important role the Forest Preserves play for the Rusty Blackbird, a rapidly-declining species, during spring migration.”

In total, Busse Woods saw 23 different species of waterfowl, as well as 14 species of shorebirds and 33 species of warblers. Orland Grassland came in second place with 194 total bird species, and Spring Creek/Penny Road Pond came in third place with 179 bird species.

While spotting the most species of birds was one component of the Big Year competition, participants were also judged by which team could attract the most new birders. Orland Grassland led with 87 new birder visits, while the Bemis Woods team hosted 28 new birder visits.

“One of the objectives of Bird the Preserves and the Big Year birding competition was to highlight the Forest Preserves as a premier birding destination; the species of birds that can be spotted in Cook County are as diverse as the Preserves themselves,” said Arnold Randall. General Superintendent of the Forest Preserves. “Bird watching is an excellent family-friendly activity that can be enjoyed year-round. Whether going for a walk along a trail, visiting one of our Nature Centers, or attending a program, visitors are encouraged to look to the skies to spot a variety of native and migrant birds.”

“This project has been such a success that we are hoping to recreate it in cities across the Great Lakes” said Louise Clemency, Field Supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chicago Office. “We greatly appreciate the enthusiasm and generosity of all the bird trip leaders who shared their time and expertise to introduce so many new birders to the amazing diversity of birds that our forest preserve gems support throughout the year.”

Interesting Facts from the Big Year birding competition:

  • LaBagh Woods is the only site to document a Golden Eagle spotting, which is a rare bird to spot within the Chicago region.
  • In addition to the Golden Eagle, LaBagh Woods was also the only Forest Preserves site in which a Swainson’s Warbler was spotted. Swainson’s Warblers are one of the most secretive and least observed of all North American birds.
  • A Whooping Crane was spotted at Skokie Lagoons. Whooping Cranes are both rare and endangered. Whooping Crane numbers declined to significantly, to about 20 birds, in the 1940s, but through conservation efforts, Whooping Crane numbers have increased to about 600 today.
  • One Big Year birding competition participant attended 21 different guided bird walks at 15 different sites.
  • Over 224 birding events were hosted in 2016, including guided bird walks, festivals, and educational programs.
  • Approximately 2,400 people participated in the Big Year birding competition.
  • An estimated 900 Big Year participants were new birders.

As part of the Forest Preserves’ Bird the Preserves campaign, FPCC visitors were invited to take advantage of frequent opportunities to view some of the most interesting and spectacular birds in the Preserves, as well as participate in the Big Year birding competition. Nine different birds were featured as a “Bird of the Month,” and hundreds of free or low-cost programs, events and bird walks were hosted in every corner of the Forest Preserves.

Support for Bird the Preserves was generously provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through Chicago Wilderness, with continued funding from the Forest Preserve Foundation. For information on upcoming birding events and programs, or for a downloadable Forest Preserves of Cook County birding checklist, visit fpdcc.com/birding.

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