Thirty-six warbler species are passing through Chicago right now

Many are headed to the untouched reaches of Canada's Boreal Forest, North America's Bird Nursery.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are the heartiest and one of the more widespread of our warblers. A few stick around Chicagoland in winter. Photo by Jamie Burning.

The New York Times featured birding prominently in a piece a few weeks ago about spring migration, “Birds by the Billions: A Guide to Spring’s Parade.” The Times included a comment from Chicago birder and secretary of the Illinois Ornithological Society’s Records Committee Geoff Williamson.

“The epitome of spring birding for me is the passage of wood-warblers,” Mr. Williamson said. “On really good days in May, you can see 25 species of them in Chicago.”

The wood-warblers are here now, and a total of 36 species have a chance to appear in the next few weeks before spring migration wanes. Any of Chicago’s top six migratory hotspots are good places to look for them, though their presence is highly dependent on having just the right weather conditions.

Most warblers travel from tropical climes, from as far as South America. They’re with us so briefly and yet the stars of the show at so many locales. One of the things that’s fascinating is just where are all these birds going?

Some Yellow-rumped Warblers aren’t headed too far away, breeding as close as northern Wisconsin and northern Michigan, while others travel thousands of miles farther, to Alaska, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories in the Boreal Forest. Many other species are also headed north to the Boreal Forest. Take the Palm Warbler, which is fairly common in Chicago throughout migration. Palm Warblers are headed to bogs and peatlands around icy James Bay, despite their tropical-sounding name.

There’s this wide swath of Canada where so many warbler species breed. So much so it’s become known as “North America’s Bird Nursery.” The Boreal Forest is one of the world’s last remaining untouched wildernesses, alongside the Amazon and a handful of others. 

The Mushkegowuk Council, headquartered in Moose Factory, Ontario, is the senior representative for seven First Nations in the western James Bay and Hudson Bay. The council has endorsed a plan to create a national marine conservation area to protect coastal ecosystems.

“The James Bay peatlands are one of the largest carbon deposits in the world, a place where warblers love,” said Jeff Wells, Vice President of Boreal Conservation for the National Audubon Society. “[The Council members] are essentially stewards of the Palm Warblers of the world.”

As much as the boreal breeding habitat is critical, so is the migratory habitat in places like Chicago. 

“You can contribute right there in Chicagoland,” Wells said. “The more healthy places we can provide for birds to stop over for food, water and safety, the more of them that will survive and we’ll start reversing these massive declines of birds.”

In the meantime, this is a season to appreciate the avifauna we do have. For a few weeks every spring, we’re in the thrall of these tiny travelers as they stir our imaginations with their fleeting presence.

Looking back at a spring migration “spectacle” at Indiana Dunes

Saturday is the one-year anniversary of a staggering movement of migratory birds. The sheer volume of migrants at Indiana Dunes State Park on May 15, 2020, floored most everyone who was present. The numbers included an estimated 900 Baltimore Orioles and 500 Indigo Buntings. A giant movement of at least 200 Cape May Warblers smashed the previous state record of 60. 

“One of the most amazing bird spectacles I've ever witnessed in my life,” wrote Caleb Putnam of Grand Rapids, Mich., later that day. "A constant morning flight of mainly westbound birds which mesmerized us for over six hours.”

It’s days like that one that are reminders of why southern Lake Michigan is so unique. We have a great event nearby that celebrates this. The Indiana Dunes Birding Festival takes place starting Wednesday and running through Sunday. There are a bevy of events, both virtual and in-person, and some even cross into Illinois. Check it out!

Celebrate Piping Plovers with a free sticker!

In case you missed it the past couple weeks, we are giving these stickers away to celebrate Chicago’s Piping Plovers. Enter your information by clicking below and we’ll get one out to you now that Monty and Rose are back on the beach.

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TWiB Notes

Rockford’s beloved pair of Peregrine Falcons, Brian and Louise, have hatched a clutch of four chicks. Louise arrived in Rockford in 2018 and is believed to be the first falcon to mate, nest and hatch chicks there. Brian is Louise’s third mate. You can watch the happenings at the Sinnissippi Audubon/Rockford Register Star nest cam…..Nathan Goldberg’s find of a Broad-billed Hummingbird at LaBagh Woods stunned many and drew scores of folks to the Northwest Side site to view the largely Mexican species…..The City of Chicago has halted the permit for metal shredder General Iron on the city’s Southeast Side. EPA Administrator Michael Regan says that the issue “epitomizes the the problem of environmental injustice.”

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