Publish Date

The entire aviary community is aflutter with the coming of Spring!
Chicago Park District’s natural areas, lakefront dunes and riverfront restoration efforts boast lovely results for thriving healthy ecosystems on parkland. Endangered love birds are living their best life in Chicago’s urban parks, and a photo contest aims to raise awareness about the importance of local bird and habitat conservation efforts.

CHICAGO- From eagles courting in Big Marsh Park to the Great Lakes Piping Plovers building a family near the Montrose Dunes, the Chicago Park District’s citywide natural habitat restoration efforts have created ideal environments for endangered species to return to the Midwest, and call Chicago’s newly reclaimed natural areas home. 

“From one bird love story to another, diverse bird species are reclaiming once industrialized areas of our beloved city, including the steel mills and landfills in Chicago’s Southeast Side and the once contaminated riverways, and calling our urban parks home,” said Rosa Escareño, Chicago Park District Superintendent and CEO. “Their welcoming presence in our parks is a sign that our coordinated efforts to improve water, urban biodiversity, and recreational quality along our waterways and in our natural areas have been fruitful.”

A majestic Bald Eagle has been spotted soaring through the skies and propped stoically on trees above Horner Park in Chicago’s Irving Park community area. But, the recently restored riverfront is not the only place in Chicago that these largest of North American raptors are calling home.

Big Marsh Park in particular has been a magnet for these mighty birds since industry was replaced with nature. The northwest section of the park in the Calumet Area Reserve opened to the public in 2016 with new walking trails and a bike park, but Bald Eagles have been appearing regularly since the early 2000s. Their presence has only increased in numbers as restoration work picked up with the highest count being 12 eagles on a single day in 2018. 

This winter, the Park District has documented up to six Bald Eagles on any given day. These birds flock to the 299-acre park in the South Deering Community Area, in Chicago’s Southeast Side, and enjoy the spoils of its surrounding waters for hunting, resting, and even territorial and mating displays. 

These mating demonstrations have been witnessed by staff and birders alike, and they involve a heart pumping maneuver where two eagles will soar high above, lock talons, and then tumble towards ground. 
The Bald Eagles’ comfort with humans means visitors to Big Marsh Park and other Southeast Side parks get a front row seat to the return of this once highly endangered species. An opportunity to commune with nature at Big Marsh Park is this Saturday, February 17 at the second Polar Adventure Days from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. The free event will include guided bird watching tours for enthusiasts looking to catch a glimpse of the bald eagles and other wildlife. For more information about Big Marsh Park and additional opportunities to explore the natural area, click here

Horner Park Natural Area and Riverfront Restoration
A Bald Eagle has also settled in the Horner Park vicinity and is giving park visitors quite a show. 

In 2013, a river shoreline restoration project began, returning 11-acres of riverbank from a thicket of invasive and weedy plants to a thriving savanna of native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees at Horner Park, 2741 W. Montrose Ave. This effort reduced invasive species and bank erosion along Horner Park’s Natural Area, improved the biodiversity of the park and freshwater species, and provided new patron access to nature, with trails along the river. 

With restoration efforts expanding into neighboring riverfront parks, including River Park, Legion Park, Kiwanis Park, and Ronan Park, we are hopeful that these love stories will continue to grow. Learn more about the River Park Restoration Project and the opening of a ‘RiverLab’ here, and the Kiwanis Park project here

Montrose Dune Expansion Area and Renaming
Chicago is not a stranger to love stories with endangered bird species in the lead roles.  

In 2021, the Chicago Park District announced the expansion of the Montrose Dune Natural Area in Lincoln Park to support valued wildlife, plants and the interests of nature enthusiasts who visit the area daily. The 15.9-acre habitat became the summer home of migrating shorebirds that foraged the area, including the federally endangered Great Lakes Piping Plover, which first nested at the site in 2019 and made subsequent visits. The Piping Plovers were the first to fledge in Chicago and Cook County in 71 years.

These dunes provide habitat for unique and protected plant and animal species. Dunes hold carbon in the fight against global warming and also provide protection of other infrastructure in preventing the loss of sand on the beach by holding water during storm events and high wave action. 

The additional acreage includes some open sand area where our beloved Piping Plovers Monty and Rose started their love story, nested and grew their brood while in Chicago. In honor of this endearing love story of survival, the Chicago Park District’s Board of Commissioners has voted to rename the Montrose Dune Expansion Area after the endangered duo. The couple’s meeting spot will be memorialized as the ‘Monty and Rose Wildlife Habitat.’ Learn more about the Montrose Beach Dune Natural Area here. Fans of the love birds are invited to support the Park District’s Financial Assistance Fund by shopping the ‘Monty and Rose’ Piping Plover merchandise collection here

Bird Meet-ups 
In addition to Big Marsh Park, Horner Park and Montrose Beach, the Park District has dedicated sanctuary spaces with bird-friendly plants and natural elements that make our urban parks inviting places for different bird species to meander, and even settle and nest. The following natural areas serve as oases for many wildlife, especially birds of all types.  

•    South Shore Nature Sanctuary
•    Lincoln Park - Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary
•    Burnham Wildlife Corridor - McCormick Bird Sanctuary
•    Lincoln Park - Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Bird Photo Contest
The Chicago Park District is teaming up with the Chicago Bird Alliance to launch the Chicago Birds Photography Contest. The Chicago Birds Photography Contest invites Chicago residents to explore and capture photos of any of the 350 bird species thriving within the city limits. The contest is open to all ages, and is intended to encourage park exploration, inspire learning about birds and their ecological importance, celebrate the diversity of bird species within Chicago year-round, and raise awareness about bird and habitat conservation. The contest categories include Urban Aviary, Lakefront Flyers, Seasonal Spectacles, Feathered Flocks and Wetland Wonders. Entries will be judged based on creativity, technical skill, composition, and adherence to the category theme. A first-place winner and three runners-up will be selected for each category. The contest will run from February 15 to August 1. For contest details, click here.