What's so cool about birding?

It's prime time to spot birds in their Hinsdale-area habitats, according to Steve Constantelos of the DuPage Birding Club.

"At end of winter and early spring, there are more birds around, and they're singing because it's breeding season," he explained. "This is sort of the best time of year because the leaves aren't coming out yet and the birds will be all geared up for spring."

Residents are invited to flock together on a Contantelos-led Winter Birding Walk from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, March 16, at Fullersburg Woods in collaboration with the Hinsdale Public Library (see Page XX for details).

"The are birds everywhere you go on the planet," said Constantelos, past president of the club. "They're pretty integral to the habitat. They eat a lot of the insects that bother people.

"They're just part of the very beautiful web of nature, and they help distribute plants with the seeds that they eat," he continued.

Constantelos said he's been an avid birder for more than a decade, a hobby that took flight when he volunteered to do annual bird counts.

"I just got to know people who were involved I eventually started going (on walks) more often," he said.

From the owls that call this area home to the warblers who just pass through on their way back to Canada, Constantelos said the county is a treasure trove of winged wonder.

"You could count a couple hundred species just in DuPage," he said, attributing the bounty to abundant open space and protected forest preserve land, as well as golf courses. "There's even little tiny places like Dean Nature Sanctuary (in the Oak Brook Park District)," he said.

Fullersburg ranks high among his favorite sites. And the bird he keeps a special eye out for is the American crow.

"Ninety percent of their population died due to the West Nile Virus outbreak," he stated. "They've come back, but not in great numbers. They're a very interesting bird. They can be a little strange. They scavenge and they do their thing, and they're very intelligent and fun to watch."

Blue jays and chickadees also were virus victims but have rebounded well, Constantelos noted.

Climate change has led to local sightings that once would have been unlikely.

"We definitely see birds up in the DuPage area that really weren't around in many numbers 20 or 30 years ago," he said, citing the pileated woodpecker, venturing north from its traditional southern U.S. range.

For Constantelos, field trips are the optimal way to expand one's birding knowledge. But backyard birding is valuable, too, with the Merlin Bird ID app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology enabling amateurs to identify birds by sight or sound.

"It's a really cool tool," Constantelos said.

He encouraged anyone who enjoys walking in nature and learning about what they're seeing and hearing along the way to register for a walk.

"All you really need is a decent pair of binoculars and proper attire for the weather," Constantelos said. "It's a pretty low threshold for entry."

- by Ken Knutson