WEST ROGERS PARK — A snapping turtle with a shell about the same size as the diameter of a basketball has scared away migratory birds and ducks at Indian Boundary Park's man-made lagoon, members of its advisory council said.
"There's some sort of predator in here. Something has changed in this park," said Daniel Ebel, a member of the council, leaning against the black gate that surrounds the pond.
Ben Woodard says there may be more predators out there keeping the birds away:
The water is usually teeming with ducks, geese and other birds, commonly fed bread by visitors — in violation of park rules.
But not on Monday, where just beyond the fence a sharp-beaked snapping turtle emerged and floated at the surface among a school of koi fish and at least three smaller red-eared sliders, a species of turtle commonly kept as a pet.
Ebel said the turtles, native to a large portion of the country, are new to the lagoon. And since they've grown bigger, fewer waterfowl have taken to the waters.
Before, it was common to see a great blue heron (which is advertised on a Chicago Park District sign nearby) and a sandpiper, among other species. Visitors were known to wait for hours to witness a blue heron eat a meal there, Ebel said.
Only a group of five ducks sat in the park's grass surrounding the lagoon Monday, splashing in the water for a few minutes before leaving the park altogether.
Park supervisor Phil Martini said the mallards hadn't been at the park all weekend and rarely visit anymore. But, he said, no one can say why the birds seem to be avoiding the habitat.
"We don't know for sure," he said, "but we're investigating."
Martini, who has the lagoon's water tested frequently, said its cleaner now than it ever has been because of fewer bird droppings mucking up the water.
Later on Monday, a spokeswoman with the Chicago Park District said the turtles could be getting a new home.
"The Park District wants to preserve the attractiveness of the lagoon to birds," said Zvezdana Kubat, the spokeswoman, "so we are currently working on relocating the snapping turtles to a more appropriate home for the turtles."
Chris Young, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said snapping turtles are common throughout the state.
Although he was unable to speak directly about the situation at the lagoon, he said the turtles can sometimes be wrongly blamed for declines in waterfowl populations, according to the agency's biologists.
"Snapping turtles oftentimes get the blame for ducks disappearing from ponds," he said, "but there are a lot of other nocturnal" predators that could be involved.
Ebel, of the advisory council, said he and other residents had seen more coyotes in the park than usual in recent months, so it's possible both turtles and other predators could be to blame for the dwindling avian presence at Indian Boundary Park.
"Something's driving them off," he said.
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