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Latino State News

Humboldt Park Bird Habitats Make for Great Bird Watching

Eric Gyllenhaal listened carefully.

“I think I hear a catbird,” he said. He mimicked the song, which at one point included a “meow.”

Me, I just heard a siren, and maybe some traffic from the Eisenhower. But Gyllenhaal can hear past the sounds of the city to the sounds of birds. He is an urban birder in his element: Columbus Park on the city’s Far West Side.

Columbus Park is one of the city’s “underbirded” parks, to use birders’ delightful term. Though it is a large expanse of nature, its inland location keeps it off most birders’ radars.

“There are parks like Montrose and Jackson that a lot of birders go to because they’re right on the lake,” said Gyllenhaal, a naturalist and museum consultant from Oak Park.

It is a rational choice: The lakefront is a natural flyway. Migrating birds follow the shoreline and drop down to rest in spots like the Magic Hedge at Montrose Point. Lakefront parks can get 200 or more species of birds a year.

“But the thing is, there are these parks eight or 10 miles inland that people don’t pay as much attention to, and we’ll wind up getting 150 species,” said Gyllenhaal, who with his two sons has been tallying birds at Columbus Park since 2007.

Underbirded parks offer freedom from traffic and plenty of parking. And, for many people, they are more convenient than the lakefront. Gyllenhaal can walk to Columbus from his Oak Park home.

Parks like Columbus, Jackson, Garfield, Douglas and Humboldt are excellent bird habitats, he said. “One thing they put in when they were first built is lagoons,” he said. “Just having open water will attract ducks, geese and herons.

“Then there are plants growing around that, marshy plants like cattails, and the wooded margins. They’ll attract marsh sparrows and wrens. The trees will get a lot of warblers and other kinds of sparrows. Scarlet tanagers will go to trees around lagoons.”