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Rare Bird Alert: Juvenile Little Blue Heron Lands at McKinley Woods

Photo for: Rare Bird Alert: Juvenile Little Blue Heron Lands at McKinley Woods

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If you've spent any time in the preserves, you've probably seen a great blue heron hanging out and doing its thing. But there's another heron that's made an appearance in town, giving birders a rare treat.

An juvenile little blue heron has been spotted spending time at McKinley Woods near Four Rivers Environmental Education Center. Chris Gutmann, the facility supervisor at Four Rivers, saw it in the confluence of the DuPage and Des Plaines rivers on Monday. That's the same spot where the American white pelicans — which have started returning as part of their fall stopover — also congregate.

If you decide to make a trip out to try to see this bird, the confluence is where you'll want to look.

"Every time I've seen one, it has been at the confluence," Gutmann said.

But keep in mind, wildlife can be unpredicatable. 

"When I used to lead birding programs, I would emphasize to my regulars to never discount how much luck has to do with birding," Gutmann said. "You need to put yourself in a position to be lucky, though."

For him, spotting a bird like this is fascinating for more reasons than just the rarity, considering this bird's range doesn't include northern Illinois.

"The striking difference between immature and adult plumage is fun to see with this species," Gutmann said.

The juvenile bird is almost entirely white, while the adult has a purple-maroon head and neck with a slate blue body.

Ebird data shows there have only been a few sightings in the Chicago metropolitan area in the past year. In addition to the recent sightings at McKinley Woods, the only other reported sightings in Will County this year have come at the Des Plaines State Fish and Wildlife Area, which is just south of McKinley Woods.

This most recent sighting once again confirms that you never know what you'll see out in the preserves, especially during migration season.

For example:

Why have we been seeing some unusual visitors, especially of late?

Gutmann said there could be a variety of factors at play, including more people out and about birding. 

"I think fall migration has a lot to do with it, too," he said.  "This time of year, there are more birds migrating than in spring, so your chances of encountering an individual of a given species are higher. Also, there are a lot of young birds migrating for the first time right now. They don’t always get it right.

"Depending on the species, increases in rare sightings could also correlate with climate change, as some species’ ranges shift."


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