Bird watchers flock to Lake Michigan during peak fall migration in Chicago area

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Birds are in peak fall migration right now, and birders in the area are seeing huge numbers of songbirds fly through the Chicago area.

"I'm at Eggers Grove watching migratory Warblers and other migrants, mostly, and it's really a pretty exciting day. There's a lot of distractions," said local birding expert Walter Marcisz. "They are just wired to do things that are outlandish. They are definitely involved in a struggle for survival. When you see a bird out in the field, they're always tense because they're always looking over their shoulder for that Cooper's hawk that's gonna pounce on them. You know, it's a tough life."

Marcisz said it's fascinating how the birds can fly hundreds, or even thousands, of miles.

"Fall migration actually starts as early as July. Some of the birds that winter very far north, including shorebirds, start migrating as soon as they're done breeding. So we're kind of at the tail end of shorebird migration and right now we're in the peak for songbird migration," said Stephanie Beilke, Conservation Science Manager for Audubon Great Lakes." The Great Lakes in general are hugely important for migratory birds because they act as a funnel for birds that are migrating through our area."

"If we build the right habitat, then the birds will come and will use it. So it's kind of an immediate sign that we're doing things right," said Rebecca Collins, Senior Resource Ecologist for Forest Preserves of Cook County. "So this marsh has been impacted by changes in hydrology in the surrounding landscape, and as a result, it had become invaded with a plant called phragmites or common reed."
Collins said they looked to restore the site so that it could provide a great habit for migratory birds, but also for wetland birds that need places to build their nests.

"More recently it's involved building a water control structure, and this has allowed us the ability to control water levels. Water used to naturally flow from this site towards Wolf Lake to the south. But that natural connection was cut off. So with the water control structure, we're now able to lower the water levels and put a little more fluctuation into the system, which is what it naturally had," Collins added.

"We know that in the last 50 years, we've lost up to 3 billion birds. We're seeing fewer birds because they've lost that habitat they need. And then the habitat they need is also threatened by climate change, because climate is pushing birds further and further north," Beilke, said. "If we don't do anything to stop that 2.5 degrees Celsius warming, then we could lose a lot of the birds that we are used to seeing in our neighborhoods. They could vanish."

Birders are asking that everyone at home remember to turn off their lights at night because many birds migrate at night and are attracted to lights, which puts them at risk of flying into windows. Just turning off your lights will help protect the birds flying through our region.

For more information about bird migration, visit Audubon's website.
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