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Students Discover There Are More Than Just Pigeons Flying Around Chicago

By Justin Breen | September 25, 2015 6:33am | Updated on September 29, 2015 10:31am

Students in the "Birds in My Neighborhood" program at Dan Ryan Woods [All photos via Openlands]

CHICAGO — There are more than just pigeons flying around Chicago.

In fact, many Chicago Public Schools second- through fifth-graders have identified birds like bald eagles, orioles and scarlet tanagers as part of Openlands' "Birds in My Neighborhood" program.

Since its 2013 inception, the volunteer-driven program — also supported by Audubon Chicago Region — has taken CPS students on field trips throughout Chicago, including Dan Ryan Woods, Jackson Park, Montrose Harbor, Lake Calumet and parks in the schools' backyards.

This year, the program was featured in 19 Chicago elementary schools in Albany Park, Ashburn, Bridgeport, Clearing, East Garfield Park, Gage Park, Lincoln Square, Logan Square, McKinley Park, Near West Side, Norwood Park, Rogers Park, Roseland and West Town.

Justin Breen says most of the kids seemed to enjoy the activity:

"In an urban setting, it's a lot harder to connect to nature than if you lived in Wyoming or northern Michigan or places like that," said John Cawood, Openlands' program coordinator for education and a Rogers Park resident.

"We try to use programs like this to say, if you you take a moment to slow down, you can have those connections in your own neighborhood."

Students with an Openlands volunteer near Montrose Harbor.

Openlands is currently seeking volunteers; the first training session begins Sept. 30. Volunteers do not need to be bird experts, Cawood said. The volunteers mainly point out birds to the students, who can identify them with provided sheets of pictured birds that live in or migrate through Chicago.

Highlights from the three-year program include oriole sightings in Jackson Park and a pair of bald eagles spotted by Lavizzo Elementary students while on a trip to Lake Calumet.

"But for a lot of these kids, cardinals are the coolest," Cawood said. "It's been fun to see their reactions. It's very rewarding."

Openlands protects the natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region to "ensure cleaner air and water, protect natural habitats and wildlife and help balance and enrich our lives," Cawood said.

For more information on volunteering, contact Cawood at 312-863-6276 or email JCawood@openlands.org.

Students with bird identification sheets at Montrose Harbor.

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