(My) Owls of Illinois

I get a lot of blog visitors from Google searches for “Owls of Illinois” or similar. Not wanting to disappoint all those readers who end up at my totally non-comprehensive Snowy Owl!!! post, here are the owls you can find in Illinois, with a focus on the Chicago area and suburbs, and my own experiences.

Barred Owl

Meepy and me
My second time handling beautiful Meepy, February 2010

Although probably not the most abundant owl found in Illinois, I had to start with my personal favorite bird species, the Barred Owl. They range throughout the entire state, where they can be found in riparian and swampy habitat. They were hard to come by up in Lake County, where we lived, but more common in other parts of the state. Barred Owls are non-migratory. I was lucky enough to see one on an “owl prowl” at Lake County’s Ryerson Woods in November, 2010. Barred Owls are distributed widely across the eastern part of North America and into northern parts of western North America. Because of their spread into the Pacific Northwest, they have been identified as a threat to the endangered Spotted Owl.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
Pennsylvania and me, May 2011

These birds are abundant across much of North America, and can be found all over Illinois. They are highly adaptable and live successfully in a wide variety of habitats, including suburban yards and urban forests. I saw my first Illinois Great Horned Owls (an adult and two chicks) at Grant Woods Forest Preserve in Lake County in April 2011, although I had heard them many, many times before. Great Horned Owls don’t build their own nests; instead, they may use old squirrel or hawk nests, or tree cavities; they may even nest on or in deserted buildings.

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl
Kotori at the Flint Creek Wildlife open house, December 2009

Eastern Screech Owls range across the eastern part of North American and are common throughout Illinois. This species has two distinct color morphs: Eastern Screech Owls are either rufous or gray in plumage. Despite their relative abundance, I have only heard these little nocturnal predators, the first one at McHenry County’s Glacial Park at a December 2009 “owl prowl”.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
Flight training with Pip, March 2010

Despite being a fairly cosmopolitan species (breeding on every continent but Antarctica), Barn Owls are an Illinois endangered species. Although I was fortunate to be able to spend time with FCWR’s Pip, so far I haven’t seen a wild Barn Owl in Illinois. Last year, Lake-Cook Audubon hosted a very well-attended talk by Steve Bailey about Illinois owls. Bailey’s presentation sparked the club to start a Barn Owl box program, which is ongoing after finally obtaining all the required permits for placing boxes in certain Lake County preserves. If the program is successful, maybe it won’t be so hard to find Barn Owls in Lake County, Illinois in the future.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl
Spirit at an informal program, October 2010

Long-eared Owls, a bird missing from my life list, irregularly visit parts of Illinois during the winter. They frequent open fields with nearby woodlands and if undisturbed will often hang out in the same place for weeks at a time, which makes them fairly twitchable. Unfortunately, a story I heard quite often from other area birders was of a roost of Long-eared Owls at a park in Chicago’s South Loop. Though the birds were comfortable in the urban setting in which they chose to winter, the hoards of birders who came in trying to add them to their lists was a disruption and the birds eventually left. I did get to see one special Long-eared Owl, FCWR’s Spirit, up close several times. I even got to handle her once at a program, which was a real treat.

Short-eared Owl

Glacial Park, McHenry County Illinois
Short-eared Owl habitat at Glacial Park, December 2010

Short-eared Owls are another species that visits parts of Illinois during the winter. They are frequently found in the same habitat as Northern Harriers, and share their low-flying butterfly-like flight pattern. I remember these birds being reported at Rollins Savanna quite frequently, but I never lucked out to see them there. I added Short-eared Owl to my life list in December 2010, during an owl program at Glacial Park in December 2010.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
Lifer Snowy Owl, Ogle County Illinois, January 2011

Snowy Owls visit Illinois during some winters, depending on food supplies (lemming population, mainly) up north. Usually solitary, lone birds may be found hunting in agricultural fields. That’s where I got my lifer Snowy Owl last winter in Ogle county.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl
Me and a just-banded Northern Saw-whet Owl, Sand Bluff Banding Station, October 2010

Northern Saw-whet Owls are extremely cute little owls that come through northern Illinois during migration. A few birds may spend the year in forested habitat. Science has learned a lot about the migration habits of Saw-whet Owls from banding programs. Though I have never seen a Northern Saw-whet Owl in the wild, I was amazed to see them up close at a banding program in October last year. I even got to hold one of these precious cuties before it was released back into the wild.

Burrowing Owl


Three Burrowing Owls

Burrowing Owls are a southern species, and only very rarely visit the state. This is another species that I have yet to add to my life list. An unfortunate story about this species, too, was brought up a lot in local birding circles. A lone Burrowing Owl was found at Montrose Beach in October 2008, and became a huge attraction to local birders. Birders trying to flush the bird may have contributed to its eventual demise by the claw of a Cooper’s Hawk.

Here in Florida I don’t expect to find several of the species mentioned above, including Snowy Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owl. Burrowing Owls are relatively common so I hope to add them to my life list soon. And I am still waiting for a Barred Owl, very very common here, to show up in our back yard. ๐Ÿ™‚

Since so many of the photos in this post are of Flint Creek owls, here’s a bit more information about them: Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation is a non-profit, federally licensed rehab organization with locations in Chicago and Barrington, Illinois. You can follow their blog here, follow them on Facebook here, and make donations online here. This post reflects my own experiences as a volunteer with FCWR. Any errors are purely my own, and opinions here do not necessarily reflect those of FCWR.

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Posted in FCWR, Illinois | 32 Comments

Celebrate Migration at IBSP this weekend!

Here’s an event I wish I could attend! The Illinois Beach State Park Hawk Watch will celebrate their third annual “Migration Celebration” on Saturday, October 15th – and all are welcome! I attended last year as a handler with FCWR and I had so much fun. The weather looks perfect for raptor migration this weekend, so head out to IBSP this Saturday!


Turkey Vultures migrate over the IBSP Hawk Watch. Here’s Turkey Jr at the Migration Celebration last year.

If the prospect of hot hawk migration action isn’t enough to excite you, though, the “Migration Celebration” has more to offer visitors.


Scopes lined up at Hawk Watch during last year’s Migration Celebration

There will be an hour-long bird walk starting at 7:30am. Birding at Illinois Beach State Park is usually excellent, and if raptors are on the move, chances are other migrants are also around.

There will also be things to keep children busy – fun and educational raptor-themed activities.

And of course, like last year, Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation will be in attendance with education raptors on the glove. The Ferruginous Hawk Journey will be there. If you don’t know about Journey’s amazing story, it was covered by ABC Chicago earlier this year: Hawk travels 1,500 miles by train.


Beautiful Journey. This photo was taken during his first public appearance in early 2011.

So pack up your binoculars and head to IBSP this Saturday! I really wish I could be there!


0511 and me in the wind during last year’s Migration Celebration

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Posted in FCWR, Festivals & Events, Hawk Watch | 1 Comment

Big Year site updated!

The official website for The Big Year has been updated with an about page, more video clips, a photo gallery, and more (hope you like Creedence!). There is also a link to Audubon.org “to learn more about the birds in The Big Year.” It’s nice to see the promotion of the movie including more about the actual birds. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Our first yard birds

Since we moved to DeBary in June, I have recorded 27 species of birds seen in and from our yard. On moving day, a Northern Mockingbird was probably the first bird to make itself known to me, though I didn’t recognize the crazy jumble of songs at first. The first bird I saw was a Swallow-tailed Kite, soaring high overhead – and I count that as the official first yard bird.

Before we put feeders up in the yard, we saw Mourning Doves, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays in the vicinity of our yard. A pair of Carolina Wrens hung out by a brush pile in the back yard and would flit around our window screens, maybe looking for bugs to eat. A Brown Thrasher visited a few times, turning over leaves in another part of the back.

Carolina Wren
Carolina Wren looking through our window – September 5, 2011

Another early yard bird was a heard-only Sandhill Crane later in the day on moving day. We’ve seen these birds in groups of two, three or four birds in our neighborhood several times, and when we venture outside the neighborhood we see them more often than not on our way to the highway.

Sandhill Cranes
Sandhill Cranes in our neighborhood – August 12, 2011

White Ibis roam our neighborhood, usually in small gangs. We were delighted when a lone bird came into our front yard on August 9th. Although it didn’t seem to find anything to eat in our grass, we watched as it picked off several frogs in the neighbor’s front lawn across the street.

White Ibis
White Ibis with frog – August 9, 2011

After we put up the first feeders, regular visitors like Tufted Titmice and Carolina Chickadees began coming to our yard to feed, along with the doves and cardinals. Of course we were extremely excited to have Tufted Titmice in our own yard – they were so rare up in Lake County, Illinois! Now they are very regular and I only squeal with delight every 5th time I see them or so.

Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse at the feeder – September 16, 2011

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal at the feeder – September 17, 2011

Although we offer nuts, the neighborhood Blue Jays seem to be quite skittish. We hear them a lot, but we rarely see them come in to eat. American and Fish Crows also stop by sometimes, but they hang out in the brushy part of the back yard and ignore the seed on offer. We haven’t had Downy Woodpeckers or Red-bellied Woodpeckers go for our nuts yet either, though they are also visiting our yard regularly.

Blue Jay
A Blue Jay caught at the feeder by the BirdCam – September 21, 2011

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Juvenile Red-bellied Woodpecker – September 19, 2011

A couple of times we’ve seen a Red-shouldered Hawk perched on a horizontal snag by our office windows in the back yard. We rarely saw these birds up in northern Illinois so it’s quite a treat to have the chance to see one up close in our own yard. I just know there are Barred Owls all around us here in DeBary (eBird even places them in our neighborhood!), but we’ve only heard a pair of them in another part of town so far. I will probably pass out if/when we ever see one in our yard.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk – August 4, 2011

We rarely see any birds using the bath, which I find very strange. I expected the bird bath to be a huge draw in this hot climate, but I’ve only seen the squirrels drink from it and the occasional Mourning Dove.

Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove – September 11, 2011

We had a Water Wiggler in the bath at first, but later I purchased a mister, thinking surely that would be irresistible to our feathered friends. So far, not so much, though I have spotted Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, and Carolina Chickadees drinking from the drips left on the tomato stand I’m using to hold up the mister. Maybe once our regular birds are joined by more overwintering friends, the bath will see more action?

Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird sipping drips – October 3, 2011

One day about six weeks after we moved in, Arthur spotted a hummingbird hovering by a flower outside his window.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Our first Ruby-throated Hummingbird – July 31, 2011

The next day we hung up a couple of feeders but didn’t see any more hummingbirds. We took the feeders in, intending to clean them and put them out again, but somehow a week or so passed and we hadn’t replaced the feeders. Then Arthur spotted a Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched in a tree in our yard. Immediately the feeders went out again and we started seeing a single bird visiting each evening between about 5 and 5:30pm. After about a week we noticed a pair of hummers sparring over one of the feeders in the back. We added a second sugar water feeder to the back yard and now we are seeing a hummingbird almost every time we look outside for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Today we added Palm Warbler to our yard list. I suspect this bird was hunting and chowing down on caterpillars in our yard for over two hours! According to eBird, Palm Warblers arrive in our area in mid-September and stay through late April. I wonder if this is a recent arrival who may stick around our apparently caterpillar-infested yard? ๐Ÿ™‚

Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler with one of a hundred caterpillars – October 5, 2011

By the way, I know my pictures are normally nothing to write home about, but a lot of the pictures in this post are real stinkers, aren’t they? The house we’re renting has old windows which are just fine to look through with the naked eye, but through optics there is some major distortion going on. My poor WingScapes BirdCam has been acting up, too – it seems to be as uncomfortable in the heat as I am. Hopefully the pictures I included give you an idea of what we’re seeing in our yard, anyway. ๐Ÿ™‚

Black-throated Blue Warbler
My favorite yard bird so far, a male Black-throated Blue Warbler – September 24, 2011

Here’s our list so far:

1 Swallow-tailed Kite – Elanoides forficatus
2 Sandhill Crane – Grus canadensis
3 Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
4 Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
5 Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
6 Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
7 White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
8 Great Crested Flycatcher – Myiarchus crinitus
9 Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
10 Carolina Chickadee – Poecile carolinensis
11 Brown Thrasher – Toxostoma rufum
12 Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
13 Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
14 Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
15 Yellow-throated Warbler – Setophaga dominica
16 Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata
17 Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
18 American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos
19 Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Archilochus colubris
20 American Redstart – Setophaga ruticilla
21 Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
22 Red-eyed Vireo – Vireo olivaceus
23 White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus
24 Black-throated Blue Warbler – Setophaga caerulescens
25 Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
26 Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum
27 Indigo Bunting – Passerina cyanea

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Gemini Springs, September 2011

In September I added eleven species to my modest Gemini Springs list, including Little Blue Heron and Pine Warbler. I also picked up three BIGBY species. These were observed during four visits and many other passes through the park during my frequent bike rides.

Kettling vultures
Black and Turkey Vultures kettling on a perfect day; September 12, 2011

Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary; September 12, 2011

American Alligator with turtle
American Alligator with (Eastern Chicken?) Turtle; September 12, 2011

Danger
Danger; September 25, 2011

Tricolored Heron
Tricolored Heron detail; September 25, 2011

The Tricolored Heron in the above photo posed on the railing for a good 15 minutes, during which I took dozens of photos. They didn’t really turn out very well but I did like this feather detail. While I stood still taking photos, I felt something crawl up my leg and was startled. My sudden movement flushed off the heron, unfortunately. I couldn’t be mad at my little distractor, though – the lizard shown below.

leg lizard
Friendly lizard; September 25, 2011

Flowering vine
Flowering vine; September 25, 2011

White Ibis
The obligatory White Ibis photo; September 25, 2011

Spanish Moss
Spanish Moss; September 30, 2011

Mushroomer
A squirrel chowing down on a mushroom; September 30, 2011

I stood for a while on one of the nature paths, looking around and listening for birds. I looked at the lovely snag in the below photo, and thought what a nice perch it would be for a raptor. I took a photo of the snag and then noticed part of it moved. There was a raptor using it – a Red-shouldered Hawk. Can you see it?

Snag with Red-shouldered Hawk
Nice snag; September 30, 2011

Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron; September 30, 2011

No Swimming
No swimming; September 30, 2011

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal; September 30, 2011

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Curious Turkey Vulture

Arthur and I paid a short visit to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in mid-September. Driving along Biolab Road, we came across several Turkey and Black Vultures loafing on and around the gravel roadway. We slowed down to have a look at this Turkey Vulture perched in a low tree.

Turkey Vulture

I love Turkey Vultures. Vultures get a bad rap for their looks and their habits, which is really unfortunate. They are beautiful, big and charismatic birds. I love how they are so social – always soaring together, or sharing a meal in relative peace.

Turkey Vulture

Flint Creek has one magnificent Turkey Vulture among their education birds, a male named Turkey, Jr (or just Junior). I only tried to handle this bird one time, and he apparently didn’t approve of my looks or habits, because he bit me not once but twice (and left a lovely scar on my left hand). I didn’t attempt to handle him again. To my great chagrin, all of the new handlers at Flint Creek – who graduated earlier this year from the Raptor Handler Internship where I assisted – are in love with Junior, and he seems to be in love with them, too. Yes, they handle him with ease and mutual respect. Of course I’m happy for Junior and the volunteers and especially for FCWR. But dang, Junior, what did you have against me?!

Turkey Vulture

Luckily I can still enjoy Turkey Vultures like this one – from afar. They’ll be with us here in central Florida all year, unlike the northern Illinois birds we only saw during the warmer months. And if they don’t like me, I’ll just get the cold shoulder. No more scars!

Turkey Vulture

I’ve submitted this post to this week’s Bird Photography Weekly. BPW is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this weekโ€™s submissions!

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Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, FCWR, Florida, MINWR | 2 Comments

My visitors came from *where* in September 2011?!?!?

Here are my favorite search terms that brought visitors to this site during September 2011. This is part of an ongoing monthly series on blog search terms.

Questions like is a frigot the same as a king fisher bird just kind of blow my mind. Seriously?

This is a good question, though: when to remove humming bird feeder. The answer is not Labor Day, if you’re wondering. Here in central Florida I suppose the answer is never. ๐Ÿ™‚

I wonder what a belgian barbie would wear? And would she carry a cone of fries?

I hope that the person searching for bufflehead banded and the one that searched for frigate bird ringed found the report a band site.

And I hope the person searching for white barred owl found these photos of a beautiful leucistic Barred Owl.

I think hovering flamingo is a kind of cool visual. The picture I get in my head for longheaded shrikes, on the other hand, is kind of creepy.

I really don’t know what the person searching for animated gif bird poop wanted to find. I mean, ew!

I hope the person searching for how to build a squirrel habitat out of a shoe box found a rehabber, if s/he needed one. Same with the person who shouted WHEN IS A LIMPKIN CHICK INDEPENDENT.

The search for huge pile of corn makes me wonder if there are some squirrels out there that have adapted opposable thumbs. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Someone out there wondered can you have a spoonbill as a pet… no, you can’t. Why would you want to?!

A person after my own heart was looking for interesting bird hides. I hope they found my group Bird hides / bird blinds on Flickr.

Hopefully the large number of searches related to the upcoming film The Big Year (including target audience for the big year, “jack black” “steve martin” “owen wilson”, jack black the big year and big year t shirt) mean great things for the movie.

Finally, as usual I got quite a bit of traffic for searches related to Bald Eagle viewing at Starved Rock State Park. I’ll have an exciting post about a very special event taking place at Starved Rock up on the blog very soon!

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ARC’s free-flying Harris’s Hawks

Earlier this month, Arthur and I visited The Avian Reconditioning Center in Apopka. My first post about that visit is here.

After meeting some of ARC’s education birds and learning about them from volunteers, we got a special treat. ARC co-founder Scott McCorkle is a falconer and he brought out two of his birds, a pair of Harris’s Hawks. When we read about seeing free-flighted birds, we didn’t imagine this type of free flight! The birds flew from the pavilion roof to Scott’s glove to a distant tree to a fence post to Scott’s glove again and several perches in between. It was really a treat to see, especially since the birds seemed to be quite playful; one bird in particular was fond of flying through cracks in the roof of the gazebo as a trick.

Harris's Hawks

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

These photos may not be in exact chronological order, but I’m sure the last picture above was taken towards the end of the demonstration — look at that crop! ๐Ÿ™‚

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A Brief History of The Big Year

We have two new clips to pour over until opening day on October 14th. First, here’s a quickie explanation of what a Big Year is, according to The Big Year.

Next, an expansion on the short “fallout” sequence first seen in the trailer.

I have a much better feeling about the movie after seeing these two clips – they actually made me laugh. I mean, this Kenny Bostick character is some birding rock star – he’s been on MULTIPLE covers of Audubon, Birding, and WildBird magazine!? One very quick nit / question (of many to come!): what is that green turaco-looking species shown at :29 in the first clip?

“I’ll put it down as a sick day.” LOL

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Visiting the birds of ARC

Earlier this month, Arthur and I visited The Avian Reconditioning Center, a raptor rehabilitation and education organization located in Apopka.

The facility is open to the public Saturdays. Like other similar organizations, ARC relies on the hard work of dedicated volunteers. We got to learn about a few of ARC’s education birds from some of those volunteers.

One of the first birds we got to see was a Short-tailed Hawk. This bird isn’t even on my life list so it was great to see this beautiful raptor up close. ARC has two of these birds; I’m not sure which one this is, but I do remember that the bird’s permanent injury is from a gunshot wound.

Short-tailed Hawk

Next we got to see a Swallow-tailed Kite named Scooter. This is a species I got to see in the wild quite a bit this summer, and it was even our first yard bird (seen from the yard) after moving in to our house in DeBary! I had never seen one on the glove before, though, so this was a very special treat. Scooter in an imprint so she is unable to be released. We learned that Scooter enjoys playing with blades of grass which has earned her the affectionate nickname gardener. I got to see some of this playfulness myself! Note her beautiful dark reddish brown eyes in the video.

Scooter the Swallow-tailed Kite

Scooter the Swallow-tailed Kite

We also got to see Mrs. P. up close. Mrs. P. is a five-year-old Barred Owl. She is imprinted on humans and cannot be released into the wild. I took some glamour shots of this beautiful bird.

Mrs. P the Barred Owl

Mrs. P the Barred Owl

Mrs. P the Barred Owl

Another owl, this time the Great Horned Owl Gulliver, got some more glamour shot treatment. Gulliver cannot be released into the wild due to a permanent wing injury she sustained as an owlet.

Gulliver the Great Horned Owl

Gulliver the Great Horned Owl

Some other birds were out in the yard, but we didn’t get to see them on the glove or hear their stories. These include a Bald Eagle, a Barn Owl, and Red-shouldered Hawk named Pierce.

Pierce the Red-shouldered Hawk

A falconry bird, given up by its falconer, was also in the yard. I think this beauty is a Peregrine-Gyrfalcon hybrid, but I’m not sure.

Falcon

Finally, we got to see ARC founder Carol McCorkle work on flight training with a young, permanently injured Red-tailed Hawk. This bird has a damaged foot which makes her unreleasable. The bird is fully flighted and was training with Carol on a creance.

Red-tailed Hawk flight training

Red-tailed Hawk permanent foot injury

The birds were set up under a large open wooden pavilion, with picnic tables across the front to separate the birds and volunteers from visitors. The exterior of the pavilion is roped off around the back, to protect the birds but allow visitors to see them on their perches. It’s a very nice place for visitors and I’m sorry I didn’t manage to take any pictures of the general area as a whole. Next time. ๐Ÿ™‚

Besides getting an up-close look at some beautiful birds of prey perched or on the glove, visitors can also see the birds of ARC performing flight demonstrations. We got to see a pair of falconry Harris Hawks free-flying, and I will share some photos of them in a future post.

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