You never forget your first limpkin. Mine was at a lakeside trailer
park near St. Petersburg, Fla. A book said limpkins would be there and sure
enough they were. That was 1998, when finding the ibis-like wader in the United
States, outside of Florida or southern Georgia, was unheard of.
Limpkin by Nat Carmichael
How times change. A limpkin spent most of August and early
September dining on fresh-water mussels at Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe,
Cook County’s first record of the species. Another was spotted near Rockford.
These reports continued a trend that began several years ago.
The first Illinois record of limpkin occurred in 2019, near downstate Olney. Second
and third sightings followed in 2021, one of them in Lake County.
Limpkins visited a few downstate counties this summer, too,
and multiple states. Colorado received its first, as did Pennsylvania. Indiana,
Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin also hosted limpkins.
Another large wading bird we associate with Florida, roseate
spoonbill, mounted its own Midwest invasion. Sightings at Dixon Waterfowl
Refuge (Putnam Co.) and Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge (Mason Co.) in
early August were followed by two reports in Chicagoland, one in Northbrook and
another in North Chicago.
|Roseate Spoonbill by Jackie Bowman
What’s going on? We can’t blame Hurricane Idalia, which did
blow some American flamingos northward in late August. Birders scored flamingo
lifers in 10 states, including Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Remarkable!
But limpkins and spoonbills arrived well before the storm. Did
climate change bring them here? We can’t rule it out.
The ranges for many species that we think of as “southern
birds” are gradually expanding, shifting, or both. Little blue heron, snowy
egret, and red-shouldered hawk are some examples. We are seeing these birds in
Illinois more regularly.
It’s always exciting to spot a rarity. But if the reason we
are seeing a bird is climate change, well, that’s disturbing. National Audubon
Society’s “Survival by Degrees” report claims that by 2080, two-thirds of North
American bird species may face unlivable conditions across their current
Northern mockingbird, despite its name, is all over the
South but uncommon in northeast Illinois. I’m still waiting to see one in my
yard or at Cantigny Park, the places I bird the most. I’m confident that day
will come, as mockingbird is another species on the move.
|Northern Mockingbird by Paul Clifford
In recent decades, mockingbirds have successfully expanded
their range into the northeast U.S. Their presence in the Midwest is well
established and growing. They prefer dense, fruit-bearing shrubs and adapt well
to urban settings.
In early August I piloted a rental van to Seattle with my
son, Jay, who is starting graduate school at the University of Washington. You
can see a lot when crossing 2,000 miles of diverse habitat, and we did.
|Greater Prairie Chicken statue in Rothsay, Minn.
Another fabricated colossus awaited us in Jamestown, N.D.
This time our stop was planned—no way we could pass up “The World’s Largest
Buffalo.” At 46 feet long and 60 tons, the steel-and-concrete beast, called
Dakota Thunder, offered a memorable welcome for two first-time visitors to North
Needing a baseball fix, we attended the Northwoods League
All-Star Game in Bismarck, contested on the home field of the Bismarck Larks. The
team mascot is a western meadowlark, the state bird.
Playing ball in Bismarck, N.D.
I viewed several meadowlarks perching on fenceposts as we cruised west in the loaded-down Pacifica. Far easier to spot were the massive fields of blooming sunflowers. North Dakota leads the nation in sunflower growing and we were passing through at the perfect time.
At the far western end of the state, nearly in Montana, we
spent a few hours amid the stunning landscapes of Theodore Roosevelt National
Park. The park was a bucket lister for me, but our timing could have been
better. We arrived at mid-day with the sun blazing—too late for prime wildlife
viewing. Birds were scarce, and even the park’s signature bison herds eluded
In the weeks before the road trip, my backyard was overrun
with house sparrows—adult birds and their fast-growing offspring. The pesky
non-natives were draining my feeder daily, consuming prodigious quantities of
the black-oil sunflower crop that I would soon witness in North Dakota.
Enough already. Before heading out, I took in my feeders and
birdbath, gave them a good washing, and left them in the garage to dry. The
sparrows would survive, even though I hoped otherwise.
When I got back and rehung the feeders, I was curious how
long it would take for the sparrows to return. The answer was about four days. Hummingbirds,
however, came back to the nectar feeder almost at once, like they were waiting
I’m experimenting now with refill frequency, letting the
sunflower feeder sit empty at times. It seems to help—house sparrow visitation is
down. I like to think I’m winning the game, frustrating the greedy little
buggers and driving them off to less Grinch-like neighbors.
It’s an illusion, of course. Like squirrels, house sparrows
can never really be defeated, and some day they will rule the world. Their annoying
presence is the price we pay for attracting the birds we cherish, like
cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches. It’s a tradeoff we must live with.
Copyright 2023 by Jeff Reiter. All rights reserved.