Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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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

Few 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 Loop.

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.

By 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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