Column: Bird watchers flock to Cook County forest preserves as fall migration gets underway – Chicago Tribune

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, left, and County Board member Donna Miller of Lynwood, right, look for birds Tuesday at Eggers Grove Forest Preserve in on Chicago’s Southeast Side. (Ted Slowik / Daily Southtown)
Cook County officials are encouraging residents to visit forest preserves this fall and look for migrating birds passing through the area.
Bird watching is free, fun for families and is best done near water and open spaces that attract birds.
“People of all ages watch birds. It’s an activity you can keep doing all your life,” said Cook County Board member Donna Miller, D-Lynwood. “Birding is the fastest growing outdoor activity in America; 51.3 million Americans report that they watch birds.”
Miller and others spoke to reporters Tuesday at Eggers Grove Forest Preserve near Chicago’s East Side and Hegewisch neighborhoods.
“We stand in a protected reminder of a landscape and ecosystem that once defined the Calumet region,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. “This is a birding hot spot year round.”
Eggers Grove is connected to the William W. Powers State Recreation Area and other land preserves that surround Wolf Lake on the Indiana border. Eggers Grove is nestled in a neighborhood of modest bungalows, not for from a Ford assembly plant and other manufacturing centers.
“We’re here in the city of Chicago, in the shadow of the old steel mills, a lot of industry, but we have this world-class nature reserve here as well,” said Arnold Randall, general superintendent of Forest Preserves of Cook County.
More than 250 different species of birds are regularly spotted at the 240-acre Eggers Grove preserve, said Michelle Parker, executive director of the regional group Audubon Great Lakes.
“Birds are joyful. They’re miraculous,” Parker said. “There are birds coming through Eggers right now who have come here from up in Canada. They’re here, they’re hanging out, they’re resting, they’re getting some food and then they’re heading to South America.”
Binoculars and books about birding occupy a picnic table Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, at Eggers Grove Forest Preserve on Chicago’s Southeast Side. (Ted Slowik / Daily Southtown)
This is an active time of year to watch birds while they are on the move flying south for the winter.
“The annual fall migration of birds has already begun,” Randall said.
Forest preserves provide birds with wetlands and other features that are lacking in most backyards and neighborhood parks.
“These are critical resources for shelter and food for countless migrating birds in northeastern Illinois,” Randall said.
You don’t need to take a class, read a book a birding book or study ornithology (the science of birds) to have a good time.
“Here’s a secret about birding,” Parker said. “You really don’t need anything for it. All you need to do is come out and be aware.”
A monarch butterfly flies among the many flowers and plants at Eggers Grove in Chicago Tuesday, during the peak for monarch butterflies. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)
Those who are inclined to may use binoculars or keep track of their finds in a journal. Bird watching is fairly simple.
“I’ll tell you how you can find a redheaded woodpecker,” Parker said. “You look for a woodpecker with a bright redhead. Then you’ve seen a redheaded woodpecker. They’re all around here.”
The point is to get outdoors while the weather is inviting, before another cold Chicago winter.
“It’s an activity that’s for everyone,” Preckwinkle said. “Everyone benefits from being out in nature.”
They say there is no such thing as a good day at the office or a bad day playing golf. Maybe bird watching is the same way.
“Research has shown there are real mental and physical benefits from being in nature,” Randall said. “You feel better when you’re recharging in the natural world.”
Bird watching can make you feel good.
“Nature benefits our mood, our psychological well-being, our mental health and our cognitive functioning,” Miller said.
You don’t need to head to Eggers Grove to enjoy bird watching, though it is an ideal spot. The county recently spent three years improving the preserve by removing invasive species and restoring wetlands, Randall said.
No matter where you are in the Southland, a major forest preserve is never too far away. From the popular stairs at Swallow Cliff Woods in Palos Township to Joe Orr Woods near Chicago Heights in Bloom Township, Southland residents have access to thousands of acres of open space.
The Bartel Grassland Land and Water Reserve west of Interstate 57 and south of 183rd Street near Tinley Park is an attractive setting for migrating birds. Another good preserve is Wampum Lake, southwest of Interstate 294 and Illinois 394 near Glenwood and Thornton.
“Stopping to take in the migration of birds is just one of the amazing things we can do in the forest preserves,” Miller said. “With the fall coming and the changing of the leaves it will be a beautiful experience that I hope everyone takes the time to enjoy.”
Forest Preserves of Cook County offers information about bird watching on its website. Naturalists with the agency will hold bird walk events at Eggers Grove on Sept. 20, Oct. 6 and Nov. 10.
Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.
Copyright © 2022, Chicago Tribune
Copyright © 2022, Chicago Tribune