Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Wild Ducks
Nature Bulletin No. 93   November 23, 1946
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Clayton F. Smith, President
Roberts Mann, Superintendent of Conservation

A century ago, when the area now occupied by Chicago was a swamp and the surrounding country was largely wet, rolling prairie; when the great Kankakee Marsh and the bottomland lakes in the Illinois valley were yet undrained: this region was visited each fall and spring by millions of wild ducks. Thousands of them nested here.

Only a few nest here now, largely in the forest preserves, and the migrating flocks are only a fraction of what they once were. But Cook County still lies on a major migration route, one of several making up the great Mississippi flyway. At McGinnis Slough, 21 miles southwest of Chicago's loop, thousands of wild ducks, geese and even swans rest and feed on the journeys between their breeding grounds in the far north and their wintering grounds in the south. Since 1940, some 6000 ducks have been trapped, banded and released at McGinnis Slough each fall under the supervision of the Illinois Natural History Survey.

Hunters are requested to notify the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when they kill a duck with an aluminum band on its leg, giving the date, the place, and the number stamped on the band. By this means, from the banding at this and many other stations in North America, we learn whether each species of waterfowl is increasing or decreasing, how many are killed, where they breed, where they winter and what routes they travel.

Banding is begun at McGinnis Slough on August l, when the first wood ducks and the tiny blue-winged teal arrive. It continues daily until the final freeze-up -- usually in December. In September the mallard, the black duck, the pintail and several other species of surface-feeding ducks begin to appear; also the coot, which is not a duck but a shorebird. By November the wood ducks, teal and coots have gone and the main flight of pintails, black ducks and mallards come through, accompanied by diving ducks such as the ringneck and the scaup.

When the thick ice comes, the slough is left silent and empty except for the muskrat houses that dot the shoreline, patrolled by the marauding mink.

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