Bird Spotting at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
Short-eared owl at Midewin NTP. Photo by Ken Murphy
northern harriers and more are delighting visitors now with late-afternoon
aerial feeding dives and competitions at the USDA Forest Service Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Kestrels, Cooper’s hawks, great horned
owls, barred owls and more are also active overwintering there.
The fence along
the pasture on the east side of the Group 63 Trail is fertile ground for dedicated
bird watchers. In the late afternoon hours just before sunset, short-eared owls
and northern harriers have been competing in the sky for voles on the ground.
The east pasture
is where bison graze, creating shorter grasses and the perfect feeding ground
where birds can more easily spot prey. Grazing also stirs rodents, which is why
coyotes follow the herd and can be heard howling in the distance starting at
about 4 p.m. Park at the Iron Bridge Trailhead: 41°22'43.9"N
harriers and short-eared owls are native grassland birds in Illinois, and they
can possibly be seen throughout the year at Midewin NTP. However, both species
are rare here during the nesting season, and the timing of the recent sightings
suggests that these are winter migrant birds that are using the expansive
grasslands of Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie to forage.” says Midewin NTP restoration
team leader Michael Redmer.
are known for being able to travel great distances, with recorded migrations as
long as 1,200 miles. Identify them by their yellow, piercing eyes and
have white on their backsides, and their tails are longer than the tails of
short-eared owls. Like owls, they rely on hearing, as well as vision to capture
prey. Their disk-shaped face looks and functions much like an owl’s face, with
stiff facial feathers helping to direct sound to the ears.
In the SouthPatrol Road Prairie restoration area, those looking for owls will find many
photo opportunities: Prairie Creek is about a 15-minute walk north Boathouse
Road. Across from the northwest corner of the restoration area stands a white oak tree that was instrumental hundreds of years ago in establishing Wilmington Township boundary lines.
Parking: 41°20'32.2"N 88°10'16.5"W.
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