Looking out for birds at LeRoy Oakes

Published: Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013 12:22 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 10:32 p.m. CDT
(Ashley Sloboda – asloboda@shawmedia.com)
Ben Katzen, a naturalist with the Kane County Forest Preserve District, points to a downy woodpecker Saturday morning at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve during a winter birds program.

ST. CHARLES – With binoculars and cameras hanging around their necks, a few dozen people on Saturday morning hiked around snow-covered LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, hoping to catch sight of some birds.

South Elgin resident Ellen Andersen – along with her 10-year-old son, Erik, and her father, Stan Jensen – were among the winter birds program participants. Andersen, who enjoys trying to see unusual birds, said she has been getting into birding and even got a bird bath for Christmas.

A list compiled by the Kane County Audubon suggested participants might glimpse such feathered creatures as the northern cardinal, European starling, American tree sparrow and, among others, the American goldfinch – species common in Kane County during winter.

Before the group set out from the Creek Bend Nature Center, naturalist Ben Katzen said people tend to – incorrectly – believe that birds migrate in the winter due to the cold.

But it's their diet that usually dictates what they do during the winter, he said. For example, he said, birds that eat insects – flies, mosquitoes – will go elsewhere for the winter while species with more varied diets, such as robins, can be seen during the colder months.

With the trees bare, Katzen said, birds should be easier to spot, but he advised the hikers to also use their ears to locate the animals.

"I do hear a very familiar bird call," he said, identifying a chickadee.

Because of its small stature, Katzen said, some might wonder how the chickadee survives sub-zero temperatures. Birds can puff up their feathers to keep from freezing, he said.

Other birds spotted included a robin and a downy woodpecker that was flitting in and out of a hole in a tree.

"I was looking for the [red-tailed] hawk today," Andersen said. But, she added, "I'm glad we saw the woodpecker."

Visit www.kaneforest.com for dates and times of future nature programs.