army base supports many Chicago birds.
a pleasing touch of irony in the history of the Magic Hedge.
Land that was once a missile base now provides habitat for
different, friendlier airborne creatures: it's one of the
most spectacular birding sites in the Chicago area.
From Montrose Avenue, east of Lake
Shore Drive, turn right on Montrose Harbor Drive.
At the first curve in the road, a small hill can be
seen to the east; the Hedge is right there. A "Magic
Hedge" sign is on the south side of the area; other
signs denoting the area as a migratory bird habitat
can be found on the Hedge's north side.
Magic Hedge is a small area of trees, shrubs and grasses
on a small hill at sandy, wind-swept Montrose Point on the
Lake Michigan shoreline along Chicago's north side. In the
1950s and 1960s, when the Army operated a NIKE base here,
the Hedge grew up along the base's border. The base was
dismantled around 1970, but the Hedge remained.
heavy human presence deters nesting in the area, but it's
a great place to see birds during their spring and fall
migrations. On a typical day, the hedge attracts more than
50 bird species; experienced birders have reported hundreds
of species in a single day. Warblers, swallows and falcons
are all dependable visitors; other birds spotted here over
the years include barn owls, purple sandpipers, golden-crowned
sparrows, and Kirtland's warblers. Early August is especially
dramatic, when purple martins gather at the Hedge in groups
of several thousand, then take off en masse for their winter
Magic Hedge owes its popularity among birds primarily to
geography. Between Chicago and the forests of southern Illinois
and Indiana, there are few places for birds to rest and
feed: it's mostly farmland. Birds spend time in Chicago,
resting and feeding either before or after their long, barren
patterns, too, have an effect. While some types of birds
pass inland through the Chicago area, following the Fox
or Des Plaines river valleys, many birds fly along the lake
shore over the water, but well within view of land. Swooping
down the western shore of Lake Michigan, they suddenly come
across Montrose Point, a man-made spit of land jutting several
hundred yards into the water. The trees, shrubs and grasses
there make it a very inviting place for birds to stop, so
they do. For the same reasons, Lincoln and Jackson Parks
along the near north and southern lakefront also attract
large numbers of migratory birds.
Hedge is on land owned by the Chicago Park District. In
recent years, the District has allowed a nearby grassy meadow
to grow taller, providing even better bird habitat; some
grassland birds and butterflies have been spotted here.
The District has also planted species, such as honeysuckle,
known to provide shelter and sustenance for birds.
are also likely to witness some of the threats to urban
bird habitat litter, unleashed dogs that have torn up ground
cover, and 'social' trails through the Hedge area made by
fishermen and beach users. Nonetheless the Hedge is still
a significant harbor in the annual migration of thousands
of birds, and a magical place to watch them.