Should the Red-headed Woodpecker be Illinois' state bird?

Bell Bowl Prairie, Big Sit results, a plover workshop and an update on shrikes: TWiB Notes for 10.25.21

Our state bird, the Northern Cardinal, is a wonderful bird. But cardinals are so popular that they serve as the symbol for six other states. They’re common backyard birds here and in many other places.

“There isn’t really a bird when you hear their name, you’re like ‘Illinois,’” said Doug Stotz, Senior Conservation Ecologist at Keller Science Action Center at the Field Museum.

Stotz was speaking at an event organized by Morton Arboretum a couple years ago. With a pandemic uptick in birding interest continuing, maybe it’s time to re-visit the discussion. After all, many other states make the most of their state birds as important symbols for conservation and the environment. Just think of loons in Minnesota.

Stotz mentioned examples like the Greater Roadrunner in New Mexico and the Cactus Wren in Arizona. Red-headed Woodpecker might be something like that for Illinois.

“Red-headed Woodpecker comes close. We’re at the heart of its range,” Stotz said. “It’s a common bird here, they breed here and are common in winter. They’re really common in the woodlands in southern Illinois. They’re the characteristic bird of the oak savanna, which represents our state tree, the White Oak. And it’s a spectacular bird.”

Other suggestions have been the Bobolink, which would draw attention to endangered grasslands like Bell Bowl Prairie. The only thing is they aren’t here for about seven months of the year. Another I’d suggest is the Northern Harrier, which is an endangered bird, can be seen all over the state and is also a prairie—and wetland—species. An outside-the-box idea would be a shorebird like the American Golden Plover that utilizes flooded Illinois farmland for an epic migration. Those flooded areas have shrunk dramatically.

I’d suggest Piping Plover, of course, but it is very much confined to one corner of the state.

It’s fun to imagine what could be a unique symbol for the Land of Lincoln, one that everyone could take pride in. One that could truly make the state stand out and perhaps raise funds for conservation. Who knows, with the right legislative sponsor and some marketing, it might just be within reach.

“We would be the only state with the Red-headed Woodpecker, and woodpeckers are underrepresented as a state bird,” Stotz said at the arboretum event. “Red-headed Woodpecker is a good emblem of oak woodlands and oak savannas and they are a bird that really responds to habitat restoration.”

Maybe Illinois should change its state bird. Why not now?


Bell Bowl Prairie faces Nov. 1 deadline

Bell Bowl Prairie is a rare gravel prairie in Rockford, a beautiful 5-acre parcel of an ecotype that exists on only 18.4 acres statewide. The Rockford Airport Authority is on the verge of putting a road through the prairie that would help to expand cargo potential for companies including Amazon. The plan’s drawn an outcry, including in this space, because it would disturb an area that is home to the federally endangered Rusty-patched Bumble Bee, state-endangered Large-flowered Penstemon, Prairie False Dandelion and several bird species. Construction would resume one week from today, as that will have given the Bumble Bee time to take shelter for the winter.

Here’s the latest…WTTW’s Patty Wetli reported that prairie advocates have a plan to save the prairie and to allow the airport expansion to continue. Airport officials are mum, though, offering brief statements to the press. This week’s meeting of the airport authority board may be cancelled, though advocates plan a rally.

Sheryl DeVore wrote a piece for the Chicago Tribune about the prairie that appeared on the front page yesterday; this is the first I’ve seen that Blue Grosbeak also once nested at the site.

And advocates interrupted a speech by Sen. Dick Durbin at the nonprofit Openlands’ luncheon:

A post shared by Rising Tide Chicago (@rising_tide_chicago)

Again, there is much more planned for this week, including a public meeting of advocates on Tuesday. All the ways to stay involved are posted on the #SaveBellBowlPrairie website. Here’s video of my visit to the prairie and the airport a couple weeks ago:


Big Sit teams record eye-catching numbers, but competition for trophy ends in a tie

The Spotting OwLYMPIANS on their Big Sit at Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area near Chandlerville. The team featured Aerin Tedesco, from left, Mike Ward, Evan Smith and Colin Dobson.

The annual Illinois Ornithological Society Big Sit took place on Sept. 25-26, with 13 teams vying to see as many species as possible while stationed in 17-foot circles. Coming into the event, there was discussion as to whether the state record of 102 species might just fall. The result this year was a stellar weekend of fall birding, though the record remains intact.

The Chautauquackers and the Spotting OwLYMPIANS ended the weekend deadlocked at 101 species, just shy of the record set in 2018. Other notable results were the Big Marsh Zugun-Sittas (96 species) and the Fort Sheridan Diamond Dogs (87). Species highlights included Swainson’s Hawk (Fort Sheridan), Hudsonian Godwit (Rollins Savanna), Sabine’s Gull (Chautauqua) and White Ibis (Sanganois).

The event raised more than $11,000 for the Ornithological Society which supports the Illinois Young Birders program, the Meadowlark ornithological journal and the IOS grant program.


🍎Calling all teachers🍎

There’s a unique opportunity coming up for a virtual professional development workshop to dive into the natural phenomenon of endangered Piping Plovers nesting at Montrose Beach. In partnership with Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and Center for Great Lakes Literacy, we will have a virtual workshop for 6th to 12th grade educators to bring the “Monty and Rose” film project to classrooms across Chicagoland. Participants will come away with a greater understanding of Great Lakes biodiversity as well as an action plan to incorporate these core science topics into their teaching context. The workshop takes place Saturday, Nov. 13, from 8:45 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.

Learn more


TWiB Notes

There are only about a half-dozen or so breeding Loggerhead Shrikes left in Indiana. The Loggerhead Shrike Conservation Team reports that Indiana shrikes raised 15 young this summer, which is slightly below average. Since the team started color banding shrikes six years ago, they report that more than half of adult birds were seen again the following year, though only 17% of hatch-year birds were seen again. However, two of the 25 juvenile shrikes banded in 2020 were found nesting in Indiana this summer, much to the delight of the conservation team. If you would like to get involved by adopting a shrike, you may do so here……Feminist Bird Club founder Molly Adams is stepping down from leading the organization after five years. “It has evolved in really special ways that I could have never imagined,” Adams wrote on Instagram. “Thank you to everyone who has contributed to its tremendous growth—the board members, chapter leaders, guides, event partners, volunteers and online community.” Karla Noboa of the Boston chapter will be the new FBC president. Chicago has a vibrant FBC chapter of its own…..Chicago Ornithological Society will host a presentation Thursday evening by Dr. Kevin Burgio on the Carolina Parakeet as part of its Birds & Bytes series.

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