The Little Things in Life

By Brian Kraskiewicz, Ecologist

As a District ecologist I have the privilege to see wildlife in an intimate way. Whether surveying wetlands for secretive marsh birds or collecting native seeds to enhance habitat restorations, I’ve stumbled upon a variety of wildlife nests and young animals.

Early one summer morning I was at McKee Marsh at Blackwell Forest Preserve and noticed a large object just off the trail ahead. As I approached, I realized it was a female common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) laying her eggs in a hole she had dug. The common snapping turtle is the largest turtle in the Chicago area, and I was able to snap a few pictures before I left her alone to complete her duties.

On another day while working in the south savanna at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve, I saw a female indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea) fly from a shrub and perch in a nearby white oak (Quercus alba). Indigo buntings prefer open woodlands, and their population has increased as result of Forest Preserve District restoration efforts.

When I looked at the shrub, I noticed a nest containing two nestlings, one unhatched indigo bunting egg and a larger brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) egg. The brown-headed cowbird is considered a “nest parasite.” It lays its eggs in another songbird’s nest and leaves the resident female to raise its young. Cowbirds usually hatch before the other eggs, which means the nestlings get more food from the female. Some may even push the other birds’ eggs out of the nest.

Several times while working in oak woodlands I’ve come across the fawn of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), often lying still, hoping I don’t spot them. Fawns are neither coordinated nor strong, so they rely on camouflage to evade predators. They’re born without much of a scent and have spotted coats that blend in with the forest floor. They instinctively know to be still when alone (and that their mothers are not far away) and I’m amazed how motionless they remain even if I’m standing less than 2 feet away. But not wanting to stress the fawn or its mother, I always quickly move on.

These are just a few of the great wildlife encounters I’ve experienced over the past 15 years, and I can only imagine how many more the Forest Preserve District has been able to provide over the past 100. 
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