Wildlife in Chicago
Nature Bulletin No. 650 October 7, 1961
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
John J. Duffy, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist
WILDLIFE IN CHICAGO
people realize that there is enough native wildlife worth
mentioning in roaring, jam-packed Chicago, nor that very much of it is
left in its fringe of adjoining suburbs. Surprisingly, this is not the case.
Just as rural people become accustomed to urban life, some wild birds
and mammals have adjusted to city life and are holding their own. A
few kinds seem to be more numerous in parts of metropolitan Chicago
than they were in those same areas a hundred years ago.
The white-tailed deer, long extinct in this part of Illinois, is on the
increase in the Chicago region. In recent winters two of them, perhaps
chased by dogs, were rescued from the ice on the lake front -- one at
Jackson Park and the other in the Calumet region.
The gray squirrel appears to have greatly increased its numbers over the
past few decades in the suburban towns and over large portions of the
city. Winter and summer, in parks and around homes, large numbers of
people regularly feed them table scraps and nuts for the fun of watching
their lively frisking. Like other wildlife in cities and towns, they are
fully protected by law against guns, traps and poison. As if this weren't
enough, they often gnaw into attics and move in with us.
On mornings after every fresh snowfall the dot-dash tracks of cottontail
rabbits are seen crisscrossing lawns, city parks and cemeteries. During
the daytime, even in the closely built, heavily populated sections of the
city they squat motionless in their grass-covered nests or "forms". The
females scoop out cup-shaped hollows and line them with their own fur
for hiding their newborn young.
The opossum, a typical woodland fur-bearer, has become common in
towns and, in recent years, is invading deeper and deeper into the heart
of Chicago. Dim-witted and slow with a top speed no faster than a brisk
waddle, this strange nocturnal mammal seems to survive in cities
because it is an omnivorous scavenger and because they reproduce
rapidly. More than once, newspapers have reported possums in the
Among the kinds of songbirds nesting in the city 'he most common and
widespread are the grackle, robin, cardinal and wood pewee. The night
hawks or bullbats, seen catching insects on the wing as they zigzag over
the city at dawn and dusk, lay their eggs on the flat roofs of tall
buildings without any nest whatever.
far the greatest number of wildlife species seen in Chicago is found
among the migrating hordes of birds that, both spring and fall, follow an
ancient migration route along this west shore of Lake Michigan. For
example, many kinds of tiny warblers pass through Chicago, even
through the Loop, as if the city were not a hazard. On their way
southward, purple martins gather by the thousands to feed and rest at
Montrose Harbor and near the Shedd Aquarium. Flocks of Canada
geese, perhaps confused by the city's lights on nights with low-hanging
clouds, often circle for hours and waken thousands with their honking.
The gulls which throng our harbors are reared on several islands in
northern Lake Michigan. Several species of diving ducks spend the
winter in the open waters of the lake. Occasionally, in winter, a few
snowy owls from the distant Arctic were seen hunting rats in waste
places and the city dumps. Also a migrating bald eagle stopped over for
a few days at Belmont Harbor to feed on dead fish.
The richest wildlife populations within Chicago's city limits are at Lake
Calumet, Wolf Lake and along the Little Calumet River. On their mud
flats are to be found all of the kinds of shore birds in this entire region..
Large cattail marshes are dotted with muskrat houses and, in summer,
are filled with the clamor of nesting red-winged blackbirds.
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Update: June 2012