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Typically-shy herons get social in Lincoln Park

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Sometimes treasures are hidden in plain sight. That's the case in Lincoln Park these days where hundreds of large herons are nesting in the middle of the action. But hardly anyone knows they're there.

It's happening just south of Lincoln Park's south pond along a promenade of 60 trees. It's where you find serious birdwatchers and when you find that, you find birds. In this case, it's a rookery of black crowned night herons -- hundreds of them. And what's so unusual is the fact that the large herons just don't belong there.

"They've set up their rookery here which is truly amazing that a bird that shies away from people and has historically been in a sheltered wetland area has come up and put itself right in the middle of the action," said Mike Mulcahy/Avid Bird Watcher.

The park district has fenced off the area so the birds are somewhat protected. About 400 birds in all, counting adults and newborns and they're fairly easy to see.

"They're big birds," said Mulcahy "They have a 44-inch wingspan and stand about 25 inches tall and they're ferocious fish eaters."

Being right next to Lake Michigan means the fishing and the baby feeding are excellent.

The black crowned night herons used to live in a marsh near 122nd and Torrence. It's estimated they lived there for several hundred years. But just a few years ago they suddenly moved up north to the high rent district. You have to wonder why.

"Probably because the white egrits, a bigger bird, and great blue herons, an even bigger bird moved in on their habitat," said Mulcahey.

So out new Gold Coast residents were chased out of their old home by some swampland bullies. But the bullies did not follow.

"This is not a good area for the larger herons, the great blue herons and great egrits. So therefore the night herons are able to nest here without competition," said Walter Marcisz, an avid birdwatcher.

They have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps up to the high rent district.

"Even Donald Trump couldn't afford a down payment on this strip of real estate in Chicago," said Mulcahey.

They will fly south for the winter then return again next spring.

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