Bird nerds of Logan Square already know to look up into the sky, along roof ledges or through the trees. Gorgeous winged predators make their home in Chicago and some can be spotted around the Squareon a regular basis.
Doug Stotz, senior conservation ecologist at The Field Museum, says that Chicago is home to three regular city raptors: the American kestrel, the red-tailed hawk and the Cooper’s hawk. The kestrel is a smaller bird that nests inside tree cavities or in buildings and feeds on insects in the summer and small rodents and birds in the winter; the red-tailed hawk eats mostly rodents and builds nests in tall trees; the Cooper’s hawk mainly eats medium sized birds (think pigeons and smaller) and also builds nests in taller trees.
The Peregrine Falcon Is Chicago’s Official City Bird
The Chicago Peregrine Program, now in its 30th year, reintroduced the peregrine to the area after numbers of breeding pairs had severely declined as a direct result of DDT usage until its ban in 1972. The program released 46 peregrines from four different Chicago sites in the late 1980s and then refocused its efforts to monitoring the nests, which is still done today.
According to Mary Hennen, director of the peregrine program, no peregrine nests are known in Logan Square. St. Mary’s Hospital in nearby Ukrainian Village is home to the closest nest, where in 2014 the breeding pair laid five eggs, four of which hatched; others sites are found in the Loop and closer to the lakeshore and can be tracked on this special map on the peregrine program’s website and on the Chicago peregrine’s Facebook page.
This makes it likely that peregrines spotted in Logan Square are native peregrines, birds in migration or new peregrine residents. The author of this piece saw a peregrine perched on a building just east of Palmer Square Park this past November, but there’s no way of telling if it was one of the local or migratory birds.
Hennen encourages Logan Square residents to contact her (at [email protected]) with photos if they’ve seen a peregrine, or what might resemble one. Now that the number of falcons returning to the area is strong, a pair could nest in Logan Square on its own.
City Raptors Aren’t Country Bumpkins
According to Adam Vaughan, in a recent piece he wrote for theguardian.com on wildlife in large UK cities, part of the success of the peregrine falcon in an urban setting is that the birds are using artificial light at night to hunt, which is a departure from their behavior in the wild where they are not considered a nocturnal hunter.
“Bats are a big food item [for Chicago peregrines],” Stotz says, “so we know they’re out hunting at dawn and dusk.”
This means Chicago birds are taking advantage of a habitat that humans manipulated for their own benefit and are adapting in a way that some might call Darwinian.
Want To See A Raptor? Look Up In April
Stotz says that peregrines that didn’t stay for the Chicago winter are starting to return and set up their territory for the spring. Hennen adds that right now is the courtship period and that peregrine nests will see eggs in them by the end of March.
Stotz also says April is the month that’ll see a high number of predatory birds (among others) migrating north through the city, including a number of smaller hawks and owls. The Chicago Audubon Society, which regularly shares birding information with The Field Museum and other birding organizations, would love to hear about what Logan Square residents see fly through the neighborhood during migration periods like the one starting now.
A great deal of bird migration with raptors happens along the lakefront. Logan Square residents who are keen to their environment should look for the more common inland raptors like the kestrel, red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks mentioned earlier, and for peregrines just in case.
While nothing beats a trip out of the city to a wilderness area to connect with nature, knowing that wildlife still shares space with us city-folk—especially wildlife of the beautiful avian variety—is a good reminder of the land’s feral history prior to human encroachment.