Because of its location on Lake Michigan’s shore, Chicago lies along a major bird flyway. As unlikely as it seems, the city’s parks are lousy with unusual birds in the fall and spring. In recent years, the city has done more to develop bird sanctuaries, creating new sites and improving others (like the Magic Hedge) that exist already.
I don’t have the time or eyesight for serious birding, but I find myself making a bee-line to the North Pond (and the neighboring Lily Pond) at this time of year. There are many tiny finches and wrens flying around, as well as the waterfowl, which are easier to see. Many of the ducks and geese will be around all season (and the Canadian geese, great nasty nuisances, are here year-round).
The northern shoveler is a bird I’d never even heard of before this week. It is a small duck with an enormously long spatula-bill. The male has a black bill and dramatic plumage. This week, a pair of them has been hanging out around the North Pond.
The merganser is another bird entirely new to me. It’s smaller and slighter than a Mallard and tough to see clearly when it’s swimming. Its distinguishing mark is a scruffy crest, which these pictures show. Their red eyes and long, thin beaks also make them stand out. There were a fairly large number of these birds on the pond but they will be flying farther north to breed.
The wood duck is one of the pond’s most prevalent summer inhabitants, along with Mallards. The wood duck is slightly smaller than the Mallard and has the most astonishing markings. It doesn’t look real. This photograph is from last year (taken around the same time—which shows you how late our spring is) and was taken at the Caldwell Lily Pond.
I see a gull, and I think, “Oh, it’s only a gull.” But I’m learning that there are many different types of gulls and that they can be hard to identify. This particular gull, which looked bluish in the early evening light, stood out from the others as different, but whether it really was, I couldn’t say. I loved its grey wings and longish black tail. The antics of the gulls greatly enliven the pond in summer.
These small, quiet brown ducks are easy to overlook, especially because they are likely to be mingling with the Mallards and other common birds.
This pair of geese lives on the pond each summer. As with the white ducks I often write about, these are likely domesticated animals that now live in the wild. They are large plump birds, with bright orange feet and bright orange bills. They are not as aggressive as the Canadian geese, thank goodness.
I’ve seen a lot of American coots on the pond this week. I think they pass through, since I don’t remember seeing even one last season. The coot is black with a white bill that has a maroon spot at the top and at the end. It’s a small duck with an egg-shaped body and disproportionately thin legs and enormous feet. This picture is not very good as it was taken during a heavy rain. But check out the coots if you can—they are numerous and easy to observe.
This duck was a mystery to me because of its big white chest-patch and small size. It doesn’t look like the Mallards, and its body- and tail-feathers (and its bill) differ from the shoveler’s. I think this is some sort of hybrid duck, but it sure was pretty, making its way across the pond.
Top image: Canadian goose, unidentified bird resting, and a pair of mergansers.
Click on images to enlarge.
If you’re interested in birding, this Flickr photostream, Illinois Birds, is worth checking out.