Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 22  |  Friday, March 5, 1999  |  Number 5
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Counting Birds

Every year for the last 22 years, serious birders have been doing a Christmas Bird Count at Fermilab, part of a national bird census organized by the Audubon Society. This past Christmas, when unseasonably warm weather hung on in Illinois (until a record blizzard chased it away), the count beat all counts to date.

Fifty-five species were identified on the property, with record numbers of some regular visitors. Waterfowl were everywhere–geese of all kinds, like the pesky Canada geese, of course, as well as snow geese and greater white-fronted geese–lingering here because of the warm temperatures rather than continuing their journey farther south. Birders counted 68 northern shovelers, distinguished by the long flat bills they use to skim the surface of the water for algae. Winter travelers were here, too, like dark-eyed juncos and American tree sparrows, feasting on seed heads in fields and scrubby areas. There were the familiar faces of year-round residents–native species like mourning doves and black-capped chickadees. Great blue herons, which have been nesting onsite for at least the last decade, were seen picking their way along the edges of the ponds and canals, hunting for fish. The great horned owl was still out in the oak savanna. By February, she was trading nests, as she’s been doing for years, with the local red-tailed hawk.

The census brought surprises, too, like a flock of 70 sandhill cranes–the first time the species has ever appeared in Fermilab’s Christmas Bird Count. It was the first time, too, that anyone had seen a rusty blackbird here–yet one more reason why Fermilab remains one of the best places to birdwatch in the entire Chicago area.

last modified 03/05/1999   email Fermilab