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Making Room for Compelling Voices in Birding and Conservation

Making Room for Compelling Voices in Birding and Conservation

Obstacles still stand in the way for women, minorities and young birders to feel welcome within the community. It shouldn’t be this way, because our shared love of birds should bring us together, no matter our circumstances. This is a small step, but we hope it leads to our organization and other local groups continuing to raise diverse voices of individuals who are making important strides in the birding world.

Supporting Shorebird Research

Supporting Shorebird Research

COS funding this grant was a no-brainer for many reasons. Shorebirds are one of the most threatened groups of birds in the world right now. It falls to us as responsible stewards of these waters to understand exactly how we can best share them with our avian friends.

South Lakefront Framework Plan: Birds and Golf Courses

South Lakefront Framework Plan: Birds and Golf Courses

COS has been keeping an eye on plans for development in Jackson Park, including a new golf course in the South Shore neighborhood.  Birders and community residents are voicing their concerns about wildlife protection.

Chicago Park District - Montrose Master Plan - Call for Comments

Recently, a number of COS members, birders and park stewards attended the second public meeting about the Montrose Point Master Plan, where Conservation Design Forum (CDF), the design firm, presented a revised master plan and management process.

Over the last year since the initial public meeting, stakeholders' groups and others have provided feedback to the Chicago Park District about the types of habitat and landscape design that we think will be best for birds at the Point. It seems to most of us that the Park District has heard our concerns and made many positive adjustments to the original plan. There are still issues that concern some, including security, width of paths, design of the suggested entry and other features, and funding.

Park District staff posted the latest drafts of the Montrose Point Master Plan, and the Montrose Point Natural Areas Management Plan online for public review. The draft documents are available from the CDF website in the “News” section at the bottom right of the page.

Comments, questions, and suggestions can be submitted online.

Comments will be accepted through Friday February 20. Please feel free to post comments to the site. If you have questions , feel free to contact us at

Chicago Park District - Montrose Master Plan Meeting - January 22, 2015

For over a year the Chicago Park District has been engaged in revising the master management plan for Montrose Point. COS has been a participant on a group of stakeholders as have many other environmental and parks advocacy organizations. At the last stakeholders' meeting in December, we were glad to see that most of the concerns voiced by birders and others had been addressed in a positive way, and we were able to offer more comments for review and incorporation into the plan.

See the notice of the meeting and please consider attending this public meeting from 5:30 to 7:30 on Thursday evening, Jan. 22  to see the outcome of these efforts.

- Chicago Ornithological Society Board of Directors

COS-Sierra Club Sponsored Panel on Wind Energy Impacts on Wildlife

COS and Sierra Club Chicago Group designed a program that brought in experts from around the U.S. to talk about the impacts of wind turbines, one of the cleanest energy production methods, on wildlife.

Our panel was comprised of three pre-eminent U.S.-based wildlife biologists who work on wind issues. It is very rare to get experts of this caliber together in one place and the meeting room was absolutely packed with COS members, Sierrans, unaffiliated birders, friends and allies.

Panelists were:

  • Jeff Gosse, Regional Energy Coordinator for the upper Midwest, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS);
  • Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator for the American Bird Conservancy’s (ABC) Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign;
  • Keith M. Shank, natural resources manager and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) main wind power liaison. Sierra Club’s Terri Treacy was the moderator.

Each of the three presentations was eye-opening.

Michael Hutchins’ program focused on the dangers to birds from current wind turbine design and poor siting choices. The other big killers of birds in the U.S. are building collisions, communication towers and feral cats.

Wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of birds annually, an estimate that probably is quite low because mortality of common and threatened and endangered birds by wind production facilities is voluntary. Most wind farms are private and do not allow external observers to count dead birds and bats and there is no public transparency requirement for mortality reports submitted to USFWS.

ABC along with other environmental groups (including the Sierra Club) has been somewhat successful in stopping the construction of wind farms in sensitive areas, especially in corridors with high bird-and-bad migration.

There are wind-generation devices that are safer for wildlife, such as bladeless turbines. Combined with appropriate siting, ABC argues that Bird Safe Wind is not only possible, but also the morally and legally responsible way to generate clean wind power.

Michael is working in Washington with Congressmen from both parties to write bird safe wind legislation. States like Illinois may also enact local siting and wind turbine design guidelines.

Keith Shank of the IDNR explained Illinois’ “Wild West” reputation in the wind industry because the state has no wind regulations. Environmental impact statements are not required of wind farm developers in the state.

Keith said IDNR must be consulted when state or federal threatened/endangered species may be impacted by a wind production development, but the IDNR has no regulatory power unless the development is offshore in Lake Michigan. The state of Illinois owns the lake bed and therefore has jurisdiction over wind power development.

USFWS’s Jeff Gosse presented amazing radar research about bird and bat migration around the Great Lakes, funded by a Great Lakes Restoration Fund grant.

A small team of wildlife biologists have been conducting radar studies at various points around the Great Lakes for several years. Radar can easily pick up bird migration and the USFWS team charted avian activity over water, near shore and inland at all times of the day and night during migration periods in spring and fall. Most bird migration takes place at night and the USFWS radar pictures showed the huge amount of bird movement as it ebbed and flowed throughout the night.

USFWS also has been working establishing the height at which most birds migrate at in order to check wind developers’ claims that “birds migrate well above turbine blade height.” Jeff said based on preliminary data, many birds do fly below and within the blade sweep of turbines.

The audience also learned a lot about bats from the panelists, including federally endangered Indiana Bats and Long-eared Bats that have been proposed for federal endangered species status.

Population numbers are known for cave-dwelling bats, like Long-eared, because they are colonial, hibernate in their caverns and are stationary in winter so can be counted.

Not so for tree-dwelling bats. They are not really colonial; they move around a lot and migrate so it's very hard to count them.

What is clear is that millions of bats migrate along the shores of the Great Lakes and mortality from wind turbine encounters likely is much higher than for birds, Jeff said. The migration and mortality estimates are based on sight observations because to date, scientists can’t track reliably detect bats in the air. Jeff and his team are seeking new methods to track bats by radar from outside the realm of biology.

One big difference re: bird vs. bat populations and mortality from turbines is that birds fledge many young, but bats usually birth only one pup per year. So wind turbine mortality impacts overall bat populations far more negatively than it does birds.

Each panelist stressed their conviction that clean wind power is an important part of America’s clean energy future. Each speaker stressed that wind-generated power is not without cost, the cost measured in wildlife mortality.

Safe siting and turbine design are essential.  But one factor was clear: Offshore wind turbines in the Great Lakes may be too costly in terms of wildlife mortality unless bird/bat-safe technologies are used. Many terrestrial sites in Illinois and elsewhere, on the other hand, likely can host wind farms with minimal impact to wildlife.

- post contributed by Christine Williamson

COS to Provide Input for Chicago Park District's Montrose Master Plan

First public meeting for CPD Montrose Master Plan:
Monday, February 3 from 6:30-8:30pm; Margate Park Field House – 4921 N. Marine Parkway Dr.

The Chicago Park District (CPD) is currently developing a Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary Master Plan. The CPD has engaged a landscape design firm to develop a restoration and management plan for the site.  The plan proposals include maintaining and increasing native habitat, adding accessible paths, viewing platforms, and benches, and reducing security issues.  Luis Munoz represents COS in a group of stakeholder environmental groups that have met twice to review the proposal. Two public meetings are scheduled.

The existing features of Montrose and two different concept plans are shown in the attachment.  The COS Board has some concerns about the plans; we encourage birders, photographers and others who know the Point well to review the plans and come to the meeting to offer input. It is important to know that these plans are in the first phases. Birders should know that NONE of these plans are final and that the Park District and the design firm are interested in learning more about how birders, other humans and birds use the point.  The CPD and design firm are open to suggestions to change or improve the concepts. We urge you to attend this meeting and provide thoughtful, polite comments about the use of Montrose Point by people and birds.  We will consider the impact on birds, birders and other users of:

--number and placement of benches and platforms

--habitat changes throughout the Point

--placement of accessible paths

--removal of shrubs and trees in areas around the perimeter of the Point, provide 'view sheds' and discourage cruisers.

Note, to review the plan please email or go to the Illinois Birder’s Forum at under the Conservation category.  You may need to rotate the first four pages of the attachment on your computer to view them.  There is a COS group discussing this plan by email. Please let us know if you would like to join it by replying to this message or sending email to   

COS-supported Bill Passed in Illinois - Protections for Landowners Who Open Land for Public Recreation

At a press conference August 23, 2013, Governor Pat Quinn signed SB1042 into law as Public Act 98-0522. This new law will give private landowners that open their land to the public for recreation, conservation, and education liability protections. The Governor was joined by representatives from Openlands, The Nature Conservancy, Illinois Environmental Council, Environmental Law and Policy Center, and many other land and conservation organizations. We are very grateful to the Governor, the staff in the Governor's office, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for their support and hard work to enact this important law.

Lenore- Beyer Clow, policy director at Openlands and IEC board president summarized the importance of this bill, "Openlands worked with its partners for 7 years to reinstate protections for generous private landowners who open their land to the public for recreation. We are excited that this law will offer new opportunities for people to connect to nature and enjoy Illinois beautiful open spaces."

Liability protections are a critical incentive for private landowners to allow the public on to their property. Private landowners can include non-profit organizations, land trusts, residential landowners, and even businesses. Without these protections, a landowner could potentially be threatened with a lawsuit. For many non-profits and individuals, the cost of a lawsuit could be financially devastating. We want to encourage people to pursue outdoor activities of all sorts safely.

Miller Meadow Development: COS Provides Conservation Comments to Cook County Forest Preserve District

COS and BCN representatives (Bird Conservation Network of which COS is a member organization) attended the Cook County Forest Preserve District's Miller Meadow open house.  We commented on the Miller Meadows CCFPD plan and in general on behalf of birds, bird watching and natural areas in the plans in July.  Miller Meadow has specifically set aside a meadow area for some plant restoration work, a trail on the peripheral and a viewing platform.  Thanks to input from the Gyllenhaals (Ethan monitors this meadow), COS was able to provide specific information on changes that would enhance the area for birds and birders.

Read the full letter here.

We encourage you to advocate these ideas in similar recreational plans for natural areas.

- post contributed by Nancy Tikalsky

Planning Meetings for Redesign of Lakeshore Drive

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) recently released information on the beginning of a planning process named "Refine the Drive" to redesign the northern portion of Lake Shore Drive from Hollywood Avenue to Grand Avenue.

Public meetings were held in August to identify stakeholder groups and garner input from the community to solve issues such as safety, better lakefront access, additional lakefront trails, new underpasses, tunnels, bridges and more.

Bold ideas such as expanding the shoreline and park south of North Avenue Beach to Ohio Street, and softening the Drive's Oak Street curve are also being considered.  The planning portion of the project is expected to take three years.

 - post from the Chicago Tribute


COS plans to provide comments regarding the plan's potential impact to bird habitat and bird watching areas.


IL Bill Passed Reinstating Liability Protections for Landowners, Motivating Conservation Efforts

Last month an agreement was reached with conservation organizations, legislations and the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association on a bill to restore liability protections for landowners who allow the public recreational access to their land—for activities such as fishing, hiking, or birding.  An amendment to SB1042 (House Amendment #1) was introduced reflecting this agreement.

Conservation groups have been working on this issue for seven years.  We are very grateful to Senator Don Harmon who worked to reach agreement on this bill and Representative Ann Williams who has worked to move the bill through the House.  These legislators and organizations discussed this bill in a recent press release.

“Illinois has some spectacular places to go hiking, camping, kayaking, boating, and bird watching,” said Senator Dan Harmon. “This agreement, which is the result of months of negotiations, should provide protection for the generous landowners who open their properties to the public.” “Private landowners provide a public service to the citizens of Illinois by offering people the use of their land for recreation and conservation for free,” said Representative Ann Williams. “Protecting landowners costs the state nothing and provides more access to nature for more people.” “In 2005, Illinois became the only state in the U.S. that didn’t provide protection for private landowners,” said Lenore Beyer-Clow, Policy Director at Openlands “This bill will reverse the trend of severely restricting or eliminating public access to beautiful open spaces across Illinois.” “Draper’s Bluff in southern Illinois, for example, closed public opportunities for climbing due to the loss of liability protection,” said Susan Donovan, The Nature Conservancy of Illinois. “This bill rectifies such concerns and motivates landowners to extend recreational opportunities in our state that would otherwise be out of the public’s reach.”

U.S. Representative Mike Quigley introduces Federal Bird-Safe Buildings Act

WASHINGTON -  (May 21, 2013): U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) introduced the Federal Bird-Safe Buildings Act to prevent the deaths of millions of birds that collide with federal buildings across the country each year.

“The way we live our lives cannot be detrimental to other species, and yet collisions with glass on buildings is a man-made issue that kills millions of birds each year,” said Rep. Quigley.  “This completely cost-neutral bill will save these birds’ lives without requiring unrealistic actions or expenditures. I’m proud to continue what we started in Cook County and work with the American Bird Conservancy to do all we can to make sure birds continue to be a part of our world.”

The bill would require all federal buildings to incorporate bird-safe measures.

Read the rest of the story at Congressman Mike Quigley's website.

Cook County Hearing on Trap Neuter Release programs


On Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 11:30 a.m. at the County Building, 118 N. Clark, 5th floor, Chicago, IL, a hearing has been scheduled on the effectiveness of Cook County’s TNR (Trap Neuter Return) legislation that was passed a few years ago as a way that could possibly deal with the free-roaming outdoor cats.

Publicity about the harmful effects of the free-roaming outdoor cats, which the Trap Neuter Return (TNR) programs in Cook County and around the country subsidizes, recently appeared in several national news outlets about the huge mortality suffered by birds and other wildlife by free-roaming outdoor cats. This news was based on an article that appeared in a scientific journal and was authored by scientists from the Smithsonian and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

To give you more background please click this link:

The Bird Conservation Network, for which COS is a member, is asking that as many bird conservationists and other supporters of healthy native ecosystems be there as well. Speaking on our behalf will likely include representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission and others. It would be especially helpful if you are a resident of Cook County and could attend but all are welcome. There will be no requirement to make a statement although you will be welcome to do so.

At the very least, if you are a resident of Cook County please contact your County Commissioner and tell him you are opposed to Trap Neuter Return as a way to reduce cat populations.

If you’re unsure of who your commissioner is, here are links to a map of the districts and another which identifies each district by commissioner:

TNR is bad for birds, cats and people! Please help COS and BCN oppose it.

In the following attachments and links you’ll find additional background on the issue:

The current ordinance: Cook County TNR Ordinance

The recent scientific paper from Smithsonian/USFWS :

An terrific video (9 minutes but well worth it):

One of the several national news features on the Smithsonian/FWS report:

COS Opposes Proposed Lead Bullet Exemption in Toxic Substance Control Act

COS encourages you to oppose the proposed exemption for lead bullets in the Toxic Substance Control Act.  Lead is not only dangerous to wildlife but also to human beings who may consume meat of animals killed with lead bullets.

See the Action bulletin below to see how you can voice your concern to the Senate.

Read more about the issue at these links to Audubon Society website:

URGENT ACTION Needed TO OPPOSE Senate Bill 3525, titled Sportsmen's Act of 2012, which EXEMPTS LEAD BULLETS LIMITS FROM Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA).

This act is aimed at halting any effort to apply the Toxic Substance Control Act to lead ammunition that poisons and kills a variety of wildlife and especially millions of birds each year, including endangered California condors, eagles, swans and loons.  Lead is a toxic substance and controlled under TSCA in all other areas of our lives(i.e. - paint), so bullets used for recreational purposes certainly should not be exempt.

Urge the EPA to use the Toxic Substance Control Act to limit the amount of lead that's left in the wild for nature's scavengers to ingest and should not be limited in any way in that pursuit.  Clearly this act is dangerous for birds and it may be voted on as early as Nov. 13.

PLEASE CALL Senator Dick Durbin at 202-224-2152.  Leave a message for him that you are an Illinois resident and that you strongly encourage him to vote against this bill.  The more of us who call and leave messages for Senator Durbin, the better. Please follow up and make a call!!

Op Ed on Wind Energy from The American Bird Conservancy

The Emperor Has No Clothes

When the young boy in the Hans Christian Andersen fable cried out “The Emperor has no clothes!” the people of the kingdom realized that the ruse was over. They could no longer keep up the pretense that their leader’s imaginary new suit was indeed splendid. Had one of the Emperor’s aides spoken out earlier, he could have been spared a great deal of embarrassment.

A similar trick to the one played by the tailors in the Andersen tale is being perpetrated on us today by the wind industry. We are being cajoled into ignoring what lies beneath their carefully crafted illusion. They tell us that because wind is carbon-free, smog-free, and acid rain-free, it is therefore guilt-free, and we should embrace it without reservation or restriction. But remove the green veneer and we find the truth: wind power kills birds – lots of them – and it is time someone spoke out before it is too late.

As the U.S. wind power build-out gathers speed, millions of birds are being killed in collisions with turbines, power lines, and a host of associated structures. More birds are losing breeding, foraging, wintering, and migratory stopover habitat to the footprint of these massive developments. While the wind industry keeps up the pretense that there is no problem, others are already proposing a solution.

In a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has provided a way forward for the continued development of wind power that also reduces the burden on bird populations. It uses a mechanism already well-established to protect birds from over-hunting: “take” permits under one of America’s foremost wildlife laws, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

For nearly 100 years, in order to reverse and prevent recurrence of the catastrophic effects of unrestrained market hunting that nearly wiped out many of America’s game species, all hunters have had to purchase MBTA hunting permits. The number of permits issued, the numbers of birds that can be killed, and which species each hunter can take are determined by careful scientific assessments of populations and their ability to withstand the take.

A similar permit system adapted for incidental take of migratory birds by wind development would make the industry compatible with today’s wildlife conservation needs. It would allow some take to continue, but would also impose conditions that would limit bird deaths and habitat loss and compensate for any unavoidable bird deaths through new conservation projects. Some wind proposals would be allowed to go ahead relatively unchanged; others would need substantial modification; while permits for the most egregious proposals – those that would site turbines in or near key bird areas for example – would be denied. ABC is even producing a detailed map of the United States that identifies many of these sites to aid the industry in making the right decisions from the outset.

Even the best wind farms will inevitably kill birds, and so, in addition to the cost of the permit, the developer will be required to compensate for this mortality. But with a permit in hand, he will be indemnified against prosecution for violation of the law.

Will it cost developers more? Certainly. But in relation to the total cost of a project, not prohibitively so. Will it slow the pace of wind development? Slightly. But ultimately, it will lead to a bird-smart, truly green industry. It will tailor for us a suit of real substance rather than an illusory cloak that leaves us exposed to future regret that we didn’t do the right thing when we had the opportunity, just like the dam building frenzy of last century for which we now repent at a huge cost.

To see ABC’s petition to the government for a wind industry take permit system, or to learn more about bird-smart wind, visit


Gavin Shire
Vice-President, American Bird Conservancy
1731 Conn. Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20009

COS Lauds Mayor Emanuel's Decision to Halt Police Shooting Range

Chicago Ornithological Society sent a letter of support to Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his decision made this week to pull back the plan for a police firing range on the South Side after a pair of bald eagles were found nesting there.  Proposed uses for this site have been long contested by birders and conservationists, including COS. 

We previously reported on this matter in our June 1, 2011 blog post, when an amendment to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District's motion required a baseline wildlife survey of the 33-acre property.  The discovery of the nesting eagle pair proves the value of conducting surveys like this ahead of potential plans that endanger wildlife.

You can read the letter COS sent here:  Letter to Rahm Emanuel

The Chicago Tribune covered this story as well in an article March 13, 2012 by Michael Hawthorne:  "Bald eagles thwart plan for police gun range in Chicago"  

COS Joins Opposition to Firing Range in the Calumet Wetland Area

A motion put forth by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) requests that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources perform a wildlife survey on 33 acres of land where a police firing range and lease of of property has been proposed. 

COS joined the coalition requesting this baseline wildlife survey. 

On April 7,  the motion was amended at the request of Commissioner Debra Shore to include O’Brien Lock Marsh, Whitford and other MWRD-owned adjacent parcels. 

We are glad to report that the amended motion received a 9-0 affirmative vote at the April 21 meeting. Thank you, Commissioner Shore!

The expanded area for the baseline wildlife survey includes adjacent and contiguous parcels to the lease site itself. It will not included Hegewisch Marsh, because it is not owned by MWRD.

Comm. Shore has talked with IDNR and the agency informs her that the 2-week delay for a hearing on the amended motion will not significantly impact the conduct of the baseline wildlife study.


- Post contributed by Greg Niese