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Shorebird Rock Stars

Shorebird Rock Stars

With the growing interest in the success of the federally endangered Great Lakes population of Piping Plover, we thought it’d be good to get a quick refresher on where they’re at going into 2019.

My Chicago Fieldwork Experience

My Chicago Fieldwork Experience

Wildlife in urban areas is ubiquitous. But what is it like being one of the researchers tasked with doing traditional monitoring in such a non-traditional setting?

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.

Back to the Swamp!  LaBagh Workday #3, 2017

Back to the Swamp! LaBagh Workday #3, 2017

We are really starting to see progress being made at the this Swamp White Oak grove area, and I am so proud of our volunteers for what they have accomplished in this area. But like most restoration efforts, no rest for the weary. We will continue removing unwanted dead trees, pole trees and buckthorn to prepare this area for seeding (immediately) and planting (in the near future). 

Join us for LaBagh Winter Work Day December 3

Join us for LaBagh Winter Work Day December 3

The native shrub plantings are finished for 2016, and now we begin to prepare other parts of LaBagh for native shrub plantings and native herbaceous plant seeding in 2017. This is important work, but more than anything else, IT'S FUN!

The 2015 Team COS LaBagh Woods Big Year -- Report # 3

Have you been out to LaBagh Woods lately? If you have, you have seen that the LaBagh Big Year has made a huge difference. Planting is complete for this year, but fund-raising and scouring LaBagh for new species has not stopped.

How have we done? 

The 2015 Team COS LaBagh Big Year -- Report #2

The 2015 Team COS LaBagh Big Year -- Report #2

LaBagh Woods Big Year - 1/3 Done!

It seems like just yesterday that COS kicked off the LaBagh Big Year with a field trip there on a snowy January 1. Here we are now in May, with migration in full swing, over one-third of the way through 2015. So how do we stand?

The 2015 COS Team LaBagh Big Year -- Report #1

The 2015 COS Team LaBagh Big Year -- Report #1

Quietly, and with little fanfare, before the Ivory Gull was even a thought forbirders in the Chicago area, a very special year-long event kicked off at LaBagh Woods.  Chicago Ornithological Society (COS), in conjunction with a number of other conservation-minded partners, launched a fundraiser for the restoration of the understory at LaBagh in 2015 and beyond.

COS Launches "Big Year" Fundraiser for LaBagh Woods

COS has launched its 2015 fundraiser for LaBagh Woods, located at Foster Avenue and Edens Expressway. LaBagh Woods is a critical habitat for migrating birds, but is not in good shape. Years of neglect have resulted in a significantly degraded habitat. Thanks to recent re-dedication by the Cook County Forest Preserve, volunteers have received a grant to remove the buckthorn and other invasive species that have overrun LaBagh. Unfortunately, the dollars aren’t there to purchase shrubs, trees and the fencing to protect new plantings from hungry deer.

This is where you come in!

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

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.

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