Wildlife in Chicago
Nature Bulletin No. 386-A September 12, 1970
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
WILDLIFE IN CHICAGO
In August of 1803, when a detachment of soldiers came here from
Detroit to build Fort Dearborn, they found only four crude cabins,
situated on the north bank of the Chicago River. Three were occupied
by French fur traders -- LeMaie, Ouilmette and Pettle -- and one was
In 1833, when Chicago was incorporated as a village, there were only
200 people here. Wolves were still a problem, especially in winter. On
October 6, 1834, a black bear -- the last wild one seen in Chicago was
killed near the intersection of LaSalle and Adams Streets. Game was
so plentiful that the region was a hunter's paradise .
Long before 1803, all the beaver had been taken by trappers, but
LaSalle, describing the portage to the DesPlaines, in 1682, mentions a
beaver dam across Mud Lake. Father Marquette's diary of the winter in
1674, which he spent in a hut at about where Damen Ave. crosses the
South Branch, relates how his assistants and the Indians killed plenty
of buffalo, deer, wild turkey, prairie chicken and ruffed grouse.
Buffalo, elk and panther (cougar) had almost disappeared by 1803.
The best record of the wild animals found in early Cook County is
contained in a report published in 1854 by the Illinois Agricultural
Society. It was written by Robert Kennicott, a famous naturalist who
had grown up in "The Grove" along what is now Milwaukee Ave.,
north of Glenview Road.
Kennicott listed the gray wolf, Canada lynx, bay lynx or wildcat,
badger, gray fox, the marten and another large member of the weasel
family, the fisher, as being "formerly common". Otter were "not
common". The prairie wolf or coyote was becoming abundant;
woodchucks and the little red squirrels were increasing. Opossum were
much more numerous in southern Illinois. White-tailed deer, red fox,
mink, weasels, muskrat, skunk, fox squirrel, rabbit and many smaller
mammals were abundant .
The golden eagle was rare but the bald eagle, the osprey and the turkey
vulture nested here. Snowy owls were common in winter, preying on
prairie chicken, and four other kinds, including the great horned owl,
commonly nested here. Chimney swallows were becoming more
numerous. Horned larks were abundant. The cardinal, or redbird, was
common farther south but rare here. He listed the magpie, the raven
and the pileated woodpecker but apparently the Carolina parakeet had
disappeared. There were, of course, vast flocks of passenger pigeons
and, especially during the migration seasons, innumerable swans,
geese and wild ducks. Flocks of 100 or more sandhill cranes were
often seen "engaged in their uncouth dance". Egrets nested in Cook
County. Kennicott said, "Eighteen years ago there were no woodcock
here, now they are abundant and still increasing.
Quail, very abundant in Illinois, were introduced here within the past
20 years. " Willow grouse and sharp-tailed grouse were common, and
prairie chicken were abundant but rapidly decreasing because the
settlers burned the prairies in late spring, whereas the Indians always
burned in autumn.
Lake Michigan is the only place that looks like it did in 1674.
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Update: June 2012