Chicago bird call

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While the White Sox fly home from Boston to prepare for the American League Championship series, commentator Ted Levin reports on the wild birds of Chicago’s major league ball parks.

(LEVIN) Which Chicago ballpark is the best for spotting wild birds: Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs or U.S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox?

For the record I have never seen an oriole, a cardinal, or a blue jay in attendance at a Major League Baseball game. But I have seen species at the ballpark like a slender, graceful great blue heron, a DiMaggio among birds.

Chicago sits squarely on the Mississippi Flyway, one of the four major migratory routes that birds follow to and from their breeding grounds in North America. Like a river, a flyway has tributaries that eventually converge over a broad geographic region.

Lake Michigan is a major tributary along the Mississippi Flyway. In the fall birds reluctant to cross open water follow the shoreline south – toward Chicago – before turning southwest.

Saturday, September 24, 10:30 a.m. Wrigley Field. It’s in the low seventies, a thin mantle of clouds block the sun. The wind is dead. While the Cubs take batting practice dozens of chimney swifts pass back and forth over the stadium – diving, turning, pirouetting – like a flock of disenfranchised infielders. Species number one.

Top of the first. The Astros’ Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman hit solo home runs; I add five more species: ring-billed gull, pigeon, grackle, Canada goose, and starling.

Bottom of the second, Astros 2 Cubs 1. A broad-winged hawk circles high in the sky beyond Waveland Avenue. Species number 6. On migration broadwings are gregarious. This bird’s alone like the Cubs in October.

Top of the seventh, Astros 4 Cubs 2. It’s raining. There are so many swifts zigzagging above the Wrigley they need an air-traffic controller to sort them out. A crow flies in (below the swifts) above left field, crosses the outfield, exits the ballpark above right, and disappears into a drizzling wilderness beyond Sheffield Avenue.

Final score: Astros 8 Cubs 3; Wrigley Field seven species. I’m headed now to the south side of Chicago.

Saturday, September 24, 5:15 p.m. U.S. Cellular Field. The rain stopped, but the sky is as gray as a gull’s back. A dozen chimney swifts zip back and forth above the field (a far lesser number than I had seen above Wrigley).

Bottom of the third. The Sox score six runs, three on Jermaine Dye’s three-run homer. Birds vanish in the twilit sky. The exploding scoreboard – the flash, the thunder, the smoke – doesn’t help.
I’ve stalled at five species. Besides the ubiquitous swifts I’ve tallied ring-billed gull, pigeon, mourning dove, and crow. Two less than I saw at Wrigley Field. Wrigley wins seven species to five.

Then as the Cubs flew home, the Sox migrated en mass to Boston to continue the playoffs.

This is Ted Levin of Coyote Hollow in Thetford Ctr.

Ted Levin is a writer and photographer and winner of the 2004 Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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