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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

Lincoln Square Neighbors Raising Money To Add Trees For Migratory Birds At River Park

Invasive trees were removed three years ago — but they were an important habitat for birds, neighbors said. They're fundraising to recreate that habitat with native trees.

A great blue heron stands in the North Shore Canal near River Park in Lincoln Square on July 20, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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LINCOLN SQUARE — Neighbors and bird watchers are raising money to restore native trees and plants to the River Park shoreline to serve as a habitat for birds. 

The eastern shoreline of River Park, 5100 N. Francisco Ave., is where the North Shore Channel and the Chicago River North Branch converge, and it is an important habitat for fish, birds and other wildlife. 

“There’s this big migration of birds … from Mexico and Central America coming up the middle of the country making their way to Canada,” said Judy Pollock, Chicago Audubon Society president. “Bright lights from the city draw birds off their migratory path, and, as a result, Chicago is an important place for migrating birds.”

But the riverfront restoration project that removed invasive trees at River Park three years ago left the shoreline without suitable spots for the birds to nest or perch, Pollock said. 

The Audubon Society, River Park Advisory Council and Park District have teamed up to plant native trees at the park, Pollock said. 

A fundraiser to cover the cost of the new trees and plants has already raised $3,000, Pollock said. Organizers hope to raise $12,000.

“The park district has been extremely receptive to us,” Pollock said. 

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Removed trees serve as part of the dam along the bank of the North Shore Canal near River Park in Lincoln Square on July 20, 2022.

As part of a river restoration project, the Park District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers removed invasive trees and plants along the park’s shoreline in 2019 because their roots were not helping protect it from erosion. 

Those uprooted trees were installed sideways at the river bank to provide a habitat for fish and insects, and the gradient of the shoreline was made more gentle to cultivate native species of plants to further protect against erosion. 

But the new trees and shrubs planted along the shore did not survive the hot and dry summers of 2020 and 2021, and the Park District supports the latest community effort to restore trees to the shoreline, spokeswoman Michele Lemons said.

Since the non-native trees were removed, smaller birds have been without places to nest and perch next to the river at River Park, neighbors and bird watchers said. 

“To their credit, the Army [Corps of Engineers] did put in a lot of ground level native and perennial plants and grasses that provide food for birds,” neighbor Colleen McVeigh said. “The problem is birds also need a place to hide while they forage. There’s nothing midlevel for birds until you go further up the riverbank to these giant cottonwood trees.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Early morning sunlight graces the bank of the North Shore Canal near River Park in Lincoln Square on July 20, 2022.

Great blue herons and endangered black-crowned night-herons still frequent the river near the park, but smaller songbirds and other migratory birds aren’t as common anymore since the non-native trees were removed, McVeigh said. 

“The herons there are pretty spectacular. But what we don’t have are the passerines, the small perching birds that come through on a migration looking to stop and rest,” McVeigh said. 

Those birds are often seen at nearby Ronan Park, where the vegetation is more dense along the shoreline, creating a birding “hot spot,” McVeigh said. 

By late September, the Army Corps of Engineers is expected to complete its removal of invasive trees and plants within River Park along the North Branch Chicago River and at the southern part of Legion Park along the North Shore Channel, between Foster Avenue and Bryn Mawr Avenue, said park council member Raed Mansour.

“After they leave, we’ll keep planting trees as long as it’s warm enough,” Mansour said.

Anyone who wants to volunteer to plant trees this fall should email the Audubon Society at cas@chicagoaudubon.org. You can donate to the restoration effort here.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A great blue heron swoops over the North Shore Canal near River Park in Lincoln Square on July 20, 2022.

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