Dave Gajewski emailed a picture of a rare Black-bellied Whistling-Duck that took me down a rabbit hole I used to love.
The ducks were mixed with Canada geese by the Cargill plant on the Indiana side of Wolf Lake. Cargill employee George Nieves took this photo on July 2.
First I checked with Alan Anderson, chair of the Chicago Audubon Society’s research committee, to make sure it was a black-bellied whistling-duck.
They are quite a bird. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology happily describes him as “a boisterous duck with a brilliant pink bill and an unusual, long-legged silhouette”. In places like Texas and Louisiana, watch for noisy flocks of these waddling ducks that visit fields to feed on seeds, or roost in golf course ponds. Listen to them too – these ducks actually have a whistle for their call.
So why are they showing up here?
Ken Brock, who wrote “Birds of the Indiana Dunes: Revised Edition” among other works and maintains an Indiana bird database, emailed, “In broad perspective this species was formerly a tropical duck, it is native to the lower Rio Grande south of flourished in the valley. Texas. Apparently, global warming has allowed it to expand northward.
Accordingly, the black-bellied whistling-duck is now invading Indiana. The state’s first record occurred in 2002 (30 June) and the numbers are rising rapidly. Actually, This Duck Is Now Breeding in Posey County [Indiana’s southwestern tip]: The first nest occurred on 28 July 2018 and consisted of a female and nine fledgling chicks.
He then gave perspective for our area, “The first Indiana lakefront record occurred at Forsyth Park on July 29, 2011. The second lakefront record passed through Miller Beach on August 19, 2016. The bird in your picture, lakefront record, came out on July 2 (record Thanks for) and spent the summer.
Walter Marquis, former president of the Chicago Ornithological Society and a top birder around Wolf Lake, messaged, “Very rare, but not unprecedented.”
They found that Rusty McIntyre had made the last ebird record of a Black-bellied Whistling-duck at Forsythe Park in the Cargill Channel on 12 September.
in valerie blaine Article from the November, 2021 Outdoor Illinois Journal online magazinelisted, “They have been observed in Illinois and Wisconsin for the past 25 years. Successful nests have been confirmed in southern Illinois in the past few years and in 2020, a successful brood was confirmed in La Crosse, Wisconsin!”
“So if numbers grow as expected, this species could become common in a few years,” Brock concluded.
I have been an outside columnist for the Sun-Times for more than 25 years. I work with a day-to-day focus, rarely stepping back to see the big picture.
But this duck made me do this. Maybe, because it fits into a pattern of remarkable change in our wild world that I’ve observed over those 25-plus years.
When I started, the theory on reports of road-kill armadillos in Illinois was that they were pranks by college students returning from Missouri or Arkansas. Now armadillos inch north enough in Illinois that sightings should be reported wildlifeillinois.org/sightings/report-armadillo-sightings/,
Black vultures, smaller than our turkey vultures, arrived and established themselves in southern Illinois. Over the past 20 years, we’ve gone from confirming the first sightings of cougars, black bears and gray wolves in modern times to keeping score on sightings. The winter migration of Canada geese is now largely short-stop around Chicago and the suburbs.
None of this happens for just one reason. Climate change plays a role, so too does range expansion, natural dispersal of young males, and habitat change.
Sometimes, it’s good to sit back and marvel.
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