It's still winter, but birding season is here

It's still winter, but birding season is here

With the start of birding season almost upon us — and Eagle Day festivities taking place Wednesday in Danville — we tapped ROB KANTER of the School of Earth, Society and Environment at the University of Illinois for five fast facts about our feathered friends in central Illinois.

1 There were 91,400 American crows tallied on this year's Middle Fork Valley Christmas Bird Count, which includes the giant roost in Danville, Crow City U.S.A. While this is less than half the number recorded in some recent years, it is still likely the largest number of crows on any such count this year.

2 Peregrine falcons can exceed 200 mph — they've been clocked at 273 mph — as they descend on prey from above in a hunting dive, or stoop. In recent years, one particular peregrine has roosted on tall buildings around the UI campus from late August until mid-March.

3 American golden plovers breed in far northern Canada and Alaska during the summer, then fly 3,000 miles or more nonstop to South America via an offshore route over the Atlantic Ocean. To make the return trip north they travel up the middle of the continent, and flocks of hundreds or even thousands may be observed in Illinois agricultural fields during April and early May.

4 Chimney swifts, which are on the wing from dawn to dusk catching insects, spend six months of the year in central Illinois. They arrive on or about April 15 and depart in the middle of October. Capistrano has swallows; we have chimney swifts.

5 Beginning in 1943, the Champaign County Audubon Society began conducting Sunday morning bird walks and keeping records of their observations at Busey Woods and Crystal Lake Park in Urbana. Participants on walks last year observed 142 species. This year's walks, which are free and where beginners are welcome, begin Sunday. Meet at 7:30 a.m. at the Anita Purves Center parking lot, dress warmly and bring binoculars if you have them.

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