Pollinator Power

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Spring is here – sort of! We are starting to see flowers blooming and hear bugs buzzing. Our world is coming to life with brightly colored flower petals and the sweet smells of nearby plants.

Flowering plants not only look and smell wonderful, they also provide us with oxygen and produce delicious nectar – a sweet energy drink for many animals! Do you know which animals? We often call them “pests” or say they’re “bugging” us, but these animals have an important job to do and they are most efficient when they keep to themselves. We’re talking about pollinators!

Plants and their pollinators have a very special relationship! Plants offer pollinators a valuable food source, while pollinators help spread pollen from flower to flower, creating more plants. Without pollinators, many of the plants we love to look at and eat wouldn’t be here.

Let’s take a look at some of the pollinators you might see buzzing and flitting around Chicago!

Bats!

  • Did you know there are 8 different species of bats that call Chicago ‘home?’ These nocturnal, flying mammals love flowers that are white or pale in color, large, and have a strong, fruity smell. Bats drink the nectar from flowers, picking up pollen in their fuzzy fur.

  • Read this book: Good Night, Bat! Good Morning, Squirrel!

 

Bees!

  • Bees are pollinating champions! They need lots of energy to live and work in their hive, so they are constantly on the move searching for flowers. They have furry bodies and legs that work like Velcro, helping them carry pollen all over.

  • Read this book: Bee Dance

 

Beetles!

  • There are so many different types of beetles, both in Chicago and around the world.  Ladybugs are a common beetle seen here, and they LOVE to drink nectar and eat pollen. They also like to munch on smaller garden pests.

  • Read this book: The Ladybug Race

 

Birds!

  • There are a long list of birds native to Chicago – but many of them help spread pollen. The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird loves flowers that are bright and open during the day. These tiny birds will use their long, tube-like beaks to sip nectar, and will sprinkle pollen as they fly!

  • Read this book: Hooray for Birds!

 

Butterflies & Moths!

  • Both butterflies and moths love flowers that have wide, flat petals – perfect for landing! Lucky for flowers, these insects work around the clock. Butterflies search for nectar during the day, while moths are busy at night.

  • Read this book: Butterfly Butterfly: A Book of Colors

 

Want to help pollinators be successful in their daily jobs? Check out this Lincoln Park Zoo article on insect hotels! And as you wait patiently for spring to stick around, don’t forget to keep an eye out for the pollinators mentioned above.

Written by Nicole Hodur

Welcome back, Herons!

Adult Black-crowned Night Heron

Adult Black-crowned Night Heron

As we spend time in Children’s Zoo, you’ll get to know the animals that call this area ‘home.’ There are bears, beavers, and plenty of turtles. When you walk to the Children’s Zoo building, you might here wolves pitter-pattering through the forest. As spring rolls in, you will likely hear an unfamiliar “squawk squawk” from the trees above. These are black-crowned night herons!

Black-crowned night herons (BCNHs) are migratory birds, meaning they move from one location to another during the summer and winter seasons. The Lincoln Park Zoo colony spends their winters in the southern United States, and returns here each spring. BCNHs like to come back to the same spot every year to build their nests – sometimes you’ll see up to a dozen nests in a tree!

The male and female herons build their nest together, using sticks and grass. They share parental duties, from sitting on the eggs to feeding the newly hatched chicks. Lincoln Park Zoo offers a perfect home to raise their young, with numerous trees grown closely together, plenty of fresh water, and food all around. BCNHs prefer to live near bodies of water where they can hunt for fish, and the zoo is the perfect spot! With Nature Boardwalk and the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool on grounds, and Lake Michigan and the Chicago River close by, the herons have plenty of meal spots to choose from.

Black-crowned Night Heron chicks!

Black-crowned Night Heron chicks!

During July and August, you’ll start noticing the smaller young herons leaving the nest. Unlike their black-and-white parents, the juveniles are brown and scruffy. You’ll see them everywhere – on the ground, on top of exhibits, and in bushes. Not to worry! Areas around Children’s Zoo will be fenced off and padded with mulch so they have a safe place to land and look for food.

Here at Lincoln Park Zoo, we love the black-crowned night herons! 1n 1977, BCNHs were listed as “endangered” by the state of Illinois. In 2007, the first herons arrived at the zoo. Every year, more herons are seen and, currently, the zoo welcomes Illinois’s largest colony. This summer, you’ll likely be able to see over 700 herons perched around the zoo!

We are proud to be the summer home for such beautiful, unique birds. The herons are just one example of birds that migrate seasonally through Chicago. Other examples include Baltimore orioles, white-throated sparrows, and magnolia warblers. There are a few easy ways to help migratory birds travel safely through our cities and neighborhoods during spring and fall migration:

  • Partially close window shades, blinds, or drapes. Drawn shades or partial blinds reduce the transparency of windows and their mirror effect.

  • Turn off unneeded lights. Artificial lights may confuse migrating birds.

  • Remove plants from window sills. This can help discourage birds from flying towards them and colliding with windows.

Before LEAP, take a slow walk beneath the Children’s Zoo trees. How many herons can you count?

BCNH information provided by the Guest Engagement Team at Lincoln Park Zoo

Springtime Scavenger Hunt

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It’s springtime in Chicago! Birds are gathering materials for nests, plants are sprouting, and you’re not sure if you should turn on the heat or the air conditioning – all signs that it’s time to head outdoors. We’ve had a long, dreary winter and most of us are feeling antsy. Do you miss the sunshine and the breeze? Are you ready to visit your favorite parks?

Spring is the perfect time to explore. The snow has melted away, leaving treasures all around. Flowers are blooming and trees are budding, sending petals everywhere. Insects are coming out of their winter hiding spots in search of food. Why not grab your rain jacket and head out on a scavenger hunt?

If you’re looking for guidance, have no fear! There are numerous scavenger hunts available online. We created a simple nature BINGO sheet that you can download here:

Apps are another great way to explore the outdoors, plus you can keep track of what you’ve found and save your findings to share with others. Here are a few of our favorite nature apps:

  • Plum’s Photo Hunt – Part of PBS KIDS! Plum Landing, an environmental science program designed to get kids excited about exploring in nature. This app sends kids on outdoor missions to photograph everything from weather to bugs.

  • Geocaching – Become part of the world’s largest outdoor treasure hunt! Use this app to find some of the millions of goodies hidden in areas nearby. This is a great family activity!

  • Nature Passport – This app, created by a pair of nonprofits in Washington state and Australia, aims to get kids and their families outdoors. You can learn, explore, and play with this on-the-go nature guide!

What interesting things have you found? What are your favorite places to explore? We’d love to hear!