Illinois Natural History Survey News

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  • Researchers suspect that nightjars are declining in Illinois

    Although the Eastern Whip-poor-will is rarely seen, its distinct call occasionally can be heard in forests from dusk until dawn. Once common, Whip-poor-wills and other nocturnal nightjar species are disappearing from Illinois forests as their habitats shrink and change, according to data from the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), a division of the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute.

  • Hear the Sound of Owls Calling at Night

    “Birds of omen, dark and foul,” wrote Sir Walter Scott about owls, once considered harbingers of doom, death, and destruction. In Medieval Europe, owls were thought to be witches and an owl's call meant someone was about to die.

  • Zebra finch study finds mixed impact of early-life stress

    A bout of early-life stress can have lifelong impacts on two key signals that help male zebra finches attract mates: beak color and song complexity. But rather than being uniformly negative, a recent study published in Functional Ecology found that the consequences of stress are mixed. Stressed males wind up with duller, less colorful beaks but sing more complex songs.

  • Recorded bird calls entice warblers to nest in conservation areas

    Some species of migrating songbirds return each year to their favorite summer home in the Midwest, where food and nesting sites are plentiful. A University of Illinois scientist and a biologist from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources found that recorded birdsongs could coax endangered Kirtland’s warblers to a new breeding site hundreds of miles from their usual destination for their own protection.

  • Illinois Natural History Survey takes campus lead on bird awareness

    After years of collecting dead birds at the Forbes Building, some of the INHS staff decided to find a solution to modify the large windows that were causing so many avian deaths. After consulting with the University of Illinois’ Architectural Review Committee (ARC), staff chose an Acopian Bird Saver for the south windows and a lined window film for the north windows where most of the bird casualties occurred.

  • Tick-infested songbirds help spread Lyme disease

    Songbird species that carry the ticks responsible for Lyme disease and other diseases forage close to the ground in large wooded areas, according to a recently published study by Christine Parker, a graduate research assistant at the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute, Illinois Natural History Survey.

  • Study Finds Waterfowl Hunters’ Spending Benefits Rural Areas

    Guns, gear, gas for the truck, drinks for the cooler, and the faithful dog: such recreational expenses for a day of duck or goose hunting in Illinois add up to a big boost to the local economy, according to Craig Miller, human dimensions scientist at the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute.

  • Hospitable Illinois wetlands in spring signal happy waterfowl hunting in fall

    When waterfowl return to Illinois in early spring on their way north, will they find enough food for a two-week layover? A limited food supply during spring migration and subsequent declines in duck populations can affect Illinois’ multi-million-dollar waterfowl hunting industry, say researchers from the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute (PRI).

  • Strong floods drive warblers away from their known breeding sites

    Fewer migratory Swainson’s Warblers return to breed after high flood waters alter the quality of their wetland forest habitat, according to new University of Illinois research published in the journal PLOS ONE.

  • Where the wild turkeys aren't

    The wild turkeys have not been cooperating with avian ecologist Christine Parker as she attempts to catch, weigh, measure, and fit them with micro-GPS units to learn about their habits.

  • Migratory birds bumped off schedule as spring shifts

    New research shows climate change is altering the delicate seasonal clock that North American migratory songbirds rely on to successfully mate and raise healthy offspring, setting in motion a domino effect that could threaten the survival of many familiar backyard bird species. A growing shift in the onset of spring has left nine of 48 species of songbirds studied unable to reach their northern breeding grounds at the calendar marks critical for producing the next generation of fledglings, according to a paper published on May 15, 2017, in Scientific Reports. The Illinois Natural History Survey was one of several institutions contributing to the study.

  • Are all your ducks in a row? Surveyors take to a plane to know!

  • Casting a net for conservation

    Go Behind the Scenes with graduate research assistant Benjamin Williams as he catches ducks and records data along the Wabash River.

  • Historic numbers of waterfowl in the Illinois River Valley

    INHS researchers at the Forbes Biological Station recorded the historic numbers of waterfowl this year in the Illinois River Valley. At migration’s peak, 329,590 mallards were counted, the highest number since 1999. Northern pintails (141,840), green-winged teal (179,620), gadwall (146,300) and northern shovelers (49,060) were present in the highest numbers since the survey began. Learn more about the waterfowl aerial inventories. Follow the Forbes Biological Station on Facebook.

  • Bald Eagles "making an impressive comeback"

    INHS Ornithologist Mike Ward was contacted about the increase in eagle sightings in the area. According to Ward, there were fewer than 20 eagle nests in Illinois in the 80s, whereas during the last spring bird count, there were an estimated 200 eagle nests.

  • It's ok to feed birds in the winter

    INHS Avian Ecologist Jeff Hoover was interviewed by The Southern about the ongoing debate of whether or not to fill bird feeders in the winter. “By and large feeding can have a positive effect on birds, particularly in hard winters," Hoover said.

  • Greater Prairie Chickens can't endure without human help

    Researchers at the Illinois Natural History Survey report that the greater prairie chicken cannot persist in Illinois without help.

  • The extinction of the passenger pigeon

    On Sept. 1, 1914, Martha, the last living passenger pigeon, died at the Cincinnati Zoo. This seemingly abundant bird had been decimated by hunting, leaving them vulnerable to other predators. Following the opening of an exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, INHS Ornithologist Kevin Johnson, who reconstructed the family tree of the passenger pigeon, was interviewed.

  • Digitization efforts make wealth of INHS collections more accessible

    INHS is home to over 9 million biological specimens, including plants, insects, fish, reptiles, and fossils. Learn how we're digitizing these specimens to make them accessible to everyone.

  • Annual Spring Bird Count - May 10th

    For the last 40 years, one day each spring, birders across Illinois go out and identify as many species of birds as they can. This data is compiled into a database managed by the Illinois Natural History Survey. Visit our website for more information on the Spring Bird Count.

  • Bird gets worm, makes history

    Illinois Natural History Survey postdoctoral researcher Loren Merrill describes how he observed the unusual behavior of a pied-billed grebe from his balcony, leading to an insight published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology.

  • Osprey being brought back to Illinois

    INHS Ornithologist Tara Beveroth is assisting the Illinois Department of Natural Resources as they work to restore osprey populations in Illinois. Five nestling osprey were brought from Langley Airforce Base in Virginia to the Illinois Raptor Center in Decatur, where they were given health assessments, fed, measured, and banded. This it the first of a series of osprey translocations over the next ten years.

  • Cowbirds aren't just deadbeat parents

    A new study from INHS graduate student Matthew Louder, and INHS Ornithologists Wendy Schelsky, Jeff Hoover, and Amber Albores found that female cowbirds monitor nest success of their offspring and will lay their eggs in the most successful host nests. This, combined with previous work by Jeff Hoover and colleagues, shows that female cowbirds aren't just abandoning their eggs in a host nest. Nests that fledged cowbirds were much more likely to be parasitized by cowbirds again than those that failed to fledge cowbirds.

  • Juvenile cowbirds sneak out of the nest at night

    INHS Ornithologists Matt Louder, Mike Ward, Wendy Schelsky, and Jeff Hoover published a new paper about the behavior of juvenile cowbirds, a nest parasite. They found that juvenile cowbirds leave the host's nest at night and return in the morning. This may be part of their strategy involved in avoiding imprinting on their host species.

  • Native birds as biological controllers of Emerald Ash Borer Beetles?

    INHS Ornithologist Chris Whelan is a co-author on a recent publication reporting that woodpeckers may be helpful in controlling Emerald Ash Borer Beetles. Their study found that bark foraging birds, such as woodpeckers, foraged more heavily on ash trees and preferred ash trees with visible canopy decline over healthy trees. "Predation by bark-foragers significantly reduced tree-level EAB densities by upwards of 85%." The authors conclude that enhancing habitat for woodpeckers and other bark foragers may help control infestations and create more resilient forests.

  • Illinois Natural History Survey Ornithologist Receives Grant to Determine "Who's the father?" for Hatchling Greater Prairie-Chickens