Melba Lara: You're listening to WBEZ. The coldest months of the year might not seem like the best time to go outside and go birding. But if you're willing to brave the elements, there are plenty of species to spot in the Chicago area. Here to share some recommendations for where to look and to discuss how climate change is affecting bird patterns is Joanne Fessett. She's the Executive Director of the Illinois Audubon Society. Joanne, thanks for joining us.
Joanne Fessett: Oh, thanks Melba. It's great to talk about birds, any day, any season.
Melba Lara: Joanne, what bird species are most visible in the Chicago area this time of year?
Joanne Fessett: Oh, well, when people think about birds in the winter, one of the first birds that comes to mind I'm sure is the cardinal and that's bright red. And when you're out birding in the wintertime, you know, there's not a lot of leaves in the trees. There's not a lot of cover and the cardinals really stand out. But then you know, as well, we've got our usual little year round residents, would be the chickadees. White and red breasted nut hatches downy woodpeckers. And then of course, another typical winter bird is one of my favorites is the Snowbird or the Junco, which is dark on the back and has the white belly. And there's plenty of those around.
Melba Lara: What are some nearby spots where people can go looking for birds?
Joanne Fessett: Well, you know, of course, one of the favorite one of course is Montrose point. Northerly Island, and then one of my personal favorites is the Bill Jarvis bird sanctuary. That's a great one. And then if you want to go a little further north, Botanic Garden, Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is a great place. And then all the way up at the top, the Illinois Beach State Park is a good place too. There's plenty.
Melba Lara: And let's talk about climate change, then. Does climate change affect what birds are here in the wintertime?
Joanne Fessett: Yes, climate change is affecting us more and more. And when you think about what birds are here, what birds aren't here, you gotta remember that their main purpose at this time of year is to eat. They're looking for prey, they're looking for food sources. So the instance of raptors, if there's not a lot of snow cover further north of us, which there isn't yet a whole lot, they're fine with staying where they're at. It's a little bit warmer, their prey is out and they can get out in the fields. Now, if we suddenly started having some snow events, they're going to need to go further south.
Melba Lara: So if I'm understanding correctly, if it's warmer further north in Wisconsin, or in Michigan and the birds can find their food sources up there, they're not going to show up here necessarily.
Joanne Fessett: That's, correct.
Melba Lara: And I wanted to ask you about bird watchers, because it sounds like bird watchers provide a lot of real time data to scientists, and it can help them track how bird patterns are changing, right?
Joanne Fessett: Yes. Oh, my gosh, yes. They're the boots on the ground that are returning the data that the scientists are using. You know, we've all heard the term citizen scientists. Well, we just recently completed our Christmas Bird Count, which is a great way to provide data for what is here in the winter to see the changes. But year round, so many of our bird watchers record their data on eBird. And that is just such a great data set that the scientists can tap into and use because that is showing us trends. Birds are indicators. They're great indicators of what's going on because something happens and they react.
Melba Lara: Joanne, it's been so lovely to talk to you. Thanks for joining us.
Joanne Fessett: Thank you. I love - it's a great subject. And we always love to encourage people to get out there and bird more, and increase awareness for what's out there.
Melba Lara: I've been speaking with Joanne Fessett about wintertime birding and climate change. She's the Executive Director of the Illinois Audubon Society. If you want to suggest a topic for our weekly climate conversation, you can email us at email@example.com. This is WBEZ.
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