Patty Wetli describes in vivid detail how the restoration of the Orland Grassland has brought back endangered birds. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County manages Orland Grassland, and others, which together form a network of high-quality habitat at large scale – large enough to support grassland wildlife including birds. For example, Cook County accounts for 20% of all Henslow sparrow records globally.
The grassland faces difficult challenges, however, from invasive species. For example, the Callery Pear (a.k.a. Bradford pear) is popular in nearby suburbs, and birds distribute the seeds to the grassland, where they germinate, grow, and spread aggressively by rhizome, displacing the plants so critical for habitat in the grassland. It is a constant issue that requires vigilance from the volunteers struggling to keep up with the growth. The presence of a single tree is enough to turn certain species off an area.
The Illinois Invasive Species Council announced in December that they are evaluating ten plants, including the Callery Pear, to determine whether to recommend listing them on the state’s list of noxious weeds, or exotic weeds. The decision could make it illegal to buy or sell the plants.
Despite the challenges, Orland Grassland is a place that beckons people to experience the song of grassland birds and other wildlife in ways that are increasingly difficult to find. “Allow yourself to be drawn in,” Wetli invites.