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!

Birding 101

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Children are collectors by nature. Exploring, finding, and sorting objects is beneficial for growth and development – and it’s fun! Birding is a great way to tap into your child’s inner explorer. Adults and children, alike, can find great joy in keeping track of spotted birds. Birds come in all different sizes and colors. Their behaviors differ and their songs are unique. Birding is especially fun because it can be done anywhere! Use the tips below to make the most of your time among our feathered friends!

What do I need?

  • Binoculars – Real binoculars are perfect for seeing a bird up close, but might be difficult for little ones. Toilet paper tube binoculars are a wonderful introduction! They do not magnify, but they help little eyes focus on a smaller area.

  • Notebook – Adults can help beginning birders keep a log of birds! Imagine your little one growing up and having pages and pages of bird spottings. It’s the perfect way to collect! You can bring paper and pencil, or keep notes on your phone.

  • Bird Guides or Apps – Even the best birders have to look up information from time to time. Try the following guides and apps to help identify birds you find:

    • The Young Birder’s Guide to North America – This photographic guide contains a checklist, birding tips, and tidbits on why birding is cool!

    • National Audubon Society First Field Guide: Birds – The National Audubon Society was formed to protect birds and their homes. This mini guide helps children learn what makes a bird a bird and shares amazing photos of North American birds.

    • Stokes’ Beginners Guide to Birds: Eastern Region – Another guide filled with tips and tricks on observing and protecting birds, but organized by color! Not sure what that yellow bird was? Flip to the yellow section for beautiful, up close photos.

    • Sibley Backyard Birding Flashcards – David Sibley is a world-renowned ornithologist (aka bird expert!) and has created some wonderful materials for all types of birders. His flashcards are easy to use and beautiful. Attach them to a metal ring and bring them with for a quick reference.

    • Merlin Bird ID – This free app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is perfect for little birders. Simply identify the size of the bird, main colors, and current behavior… then POP! You have a list of possibilities. The colorful, close up photos provided will help you narrow down your findings.

Now what?

So you have all your birding materials and you and your little one are ready to go. Now what? Simply head outdoors and see what you can see (or hear!). Plan a picnic or head to your neighborhood park. As you travel, keep your eyes peeled and your ears open. Birds are all around us! Below you’ll find some common birds found in Chicago – can you spot them in their natural habitats?

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American Goldfinch

The male American Goldfinch is known for its bright yellow feathers. Look for yellow during April to September, when males are looking for a mate. Listen for a sharp "per-chick-o-ree" sound.

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Blue Jay

The Blue Jay is one of the loudest and most colorful birds you'll spot! Listen for a "jay! jay!" call and a more musical "twee-dee."

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Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in North America. Males and females have black and white feathers, but only males have a red tuft on their head. Listen for the sound of their bills drilling into tree bark!

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Northern Cardinal

A fun and easy-to-recognize bird, the Northern Cardinal is the state bird of Illinois! Males are known for their striking red feathers. Listen for "what-cheer, cheer, cheer," "purty-purty-purty-purty," or "sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet."

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Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawks are the most widespread and familiar large hawks in North America. Look for the trademark reddish-brown tail. Listen for high-pitched, raspy screams.

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Song Sparrow

The Song Sparrow is one of the most familiar birds in our area. Tiny and speckled brown, these sparrows are known for their beautiful songs, starting with 3 identical, short notes followed by a trill.

Written by Nicole Hodur