The start of spring welcomes thousands of migrating birds to the DuPage forest preserves and greater Chicago area. It’s also the season for birding enthusiasts to get outdoors to take in the beloved sport of birding.
On a recent warm spring morning more than 20 birders — some beginners and others experienced — join Naturalist Keriann Dubina for a “FullersBird Friday” hike at Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve. The group joins Keriann first in a nature center building, where she introduces them to the radar image she captured early that morning on her phone.
“Migrant birds’ predators are out during the day, so the warblers and other migrant birds really have to move through the area at night,” says Keriann. “The radar will show the moving birds coming across the area overnight during migration season. Rain lights up green on radar usually; but if it’s a perfect circle like this, it’s birds.”
She then goes on to introduce some of the birds to look for while on our walk. Keriann works at Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center, which is situated in the surrounding forest preserve, and she has the luck of taking in the sights, sounds and flutters of migrating birds passing through on their journeys. Over the previous days, Keri spotted such birds as the yellow-bellied sapsucker, white-throated sparrow and blue-winged teal.
The birders start out on the Night Heron Trail and then stop near Salt Creek to see if they can spot the blue-winged teals. Although the teals do not show themselves, we see the first pair of wood ducks for the morning.
We move onto the Riverbend Trail north towards the North Island Loop Trail, which brings us to a small bridge just over Salt Creek. There, the trees along the creek’s shore came alive with flits of Eastern phoebes, black-capped chickadees and yellow-rumped warblers. The phoebes sit on the trees’ outer branches, waiting for insects and twitching their tails. They fly abruptly into the air to snatch their prey and return very near their last perching spot to wait for the next insect to pass, uninhibited by our presence.
Forest Preserve District volunteer Eddie Kasper is a knowledgeable birder and only 16 years old! With his binoculars and a high-powered camera lens in-tow, Eddie tags along on the hikes to not only help out Keriann but also his fellow birders with the birds’ identification. “It’s nice to have two people to help out the birders on hikes,” says Keriann. “If someone is talking to me during a hike or needs specialized help, I find it difficult to answer questions about what we're seeing and look for more birds at the same time. With a group this size, Eddie helps to not only get people on the birds we’re seeing but also to identify them.”
We circle back on the Riverbend Trail, traveling along the creek. We stop along the way to take in a few brown creepers, a hairy woodpecker, a variety of sparrows and a few remaining juncos from winter. Perhaps the most impressive sighting was the energetic and rather hurried ruby-crowned kinglet. This green-gray bird has a white ring around its eye and keeps its ruby crown patch mostly hidden from view. The ever-constant flicking of its wings — a tell-tale characteristic — makes it easily identifiable, although following it through a binocular field is rather difficult as it flits from branch to branch.
"All these little guys that we are seeing this morning — the ones who are bouncing around from branch to branch, especially the kinglets — these are the ones who came in last night. They’re hungry and looking for food," says Keriann.
Later on the trail we spot a pair of wood ducks swimming along the creek.
But even more interesting is the pair about 50 feet in the treetops above just west of the nature center! According to Keriann, a wood duck pair will search for a tree cavity to make a nest during early morning hours of breeding season. The female explores the nesting site, and the male stands just outside the cavity during her inspection.
Upon hearing this nature tidbit one of the woman excitedly remarks, “Ooh! That’s the bird whose duckling falls from a tree just shortly after its born. I've heard that it will bounce.”
Who knew? A one-day-old wood duckling will jump from its treetop nest and tumble to the ground, answering its mother's call. But no worries! This duckling is so lightweight, it’s rarely harmed upon impact when hitting the forest floor or water below. It simply shakes off the fall, stands up and follows its mother to the water.
No bird walk is ever the same and neither are the birds encountered on any given day. Keriann thinks it’s not only the promise of a high-quality birding experience that brings the program participants coming back each week but also the camaraderie. “Birding is fun for me, but getting to know these fellow birders while leading bird walks at a different forest preserve each week is even better,” says Keriann. “The bird walks are somewhat of a social circle of friends. Whether some come out to a walk each week or attend just twice a year, they’ve come to know one another. They compare notes on the walks, and they’ll even give one another tips for birding trips outside of the DuPage forest preserves.”
The Forest Preserve District offers a variety of nature-based programs for wildlife curiosity-seekers who thrive on experiences in the great outdoors. Join one of our "FullersBird Friday" walks this spring.
See our Calendar of Events for warbler walks, wildflower hikes and more.