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This Birder Has Seen a lot of Unexpected Things

As part of the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Bird the Preserves initiative, we are featuring one Birder of the Week September through October to highlight the unique experiences and diversity of the birding community. To learn more about birding or to attend an upcoming bird walk, visit our Birding Page.

Name: Heidi Tarasiuk
Hometown/neighborhood: From Chicago, lives in Palatine.
Profession: Currently, a student at Harper College taking college chemistry and zoology
Number of years birding: 6 months

Why did you start birding? 

Not only do I respect birds, I appreciate them for their beauty, intelligence, charm and for what they do for us humans. My love for birds has been with me all of my life, but it wasn’t until I engaged in a major landscaping and gardening project 5 years ago in my yard where Salt Creek runs through, that led me to connecting with them, especially with the mallard duck.

What was your first birding experience?

I wish I could remember. Likely, it occurred when I was a child. Since living in the same home in Palatine for 16 years, I have noticed many birds, but not as many as I now understand to know, today. While growing up in Chicago, I thought there was only one type of sparrow, but I was familiar with the crow, blue jay, cardinal, and rock pigeons. It wasn’t until April 2016 when I got serious about birding.

What do you like most about birding?  

What I like most about birding is getting out in nature and spending time with birds, amphibians and insects, respectfully. I am in awe of the new birds seen, and still in awe when I see them again and again. The challenge of capturing birds in a photograph to ID later on is enjoyable; this activity prompts me to learn more about their features, behaviors and migration patterns.

What is the most important lesson you have learned through birding?  

We have an ethical responsibility to protect birds.  Birds benefit everyone! Birds:

  • spread seeds and aide in the germination by scratching the seeds,
  • control insect populations,
  • provide income to humans for their beauty and interest (tourists),
  • keep the environment clean from disease (turkey vulture),
  • environmental health indicators, health of ecosystems

What is your favorite bird species and why? 

It is impossible to name only one:

  • The Canadian Geese: Like the elephant, the male goose stays with the family, helping and protecting it, and the male and female mate for life.
  • Unique sounds: Bobolink (also, very cool looking bird), Brown Thrasher with its 1,100 songs, and the Hermit Thrush.
  • Beauty: Magnolia warbler, the elegant Gray Catbird that meows is so unique.
  • Of course, the hummingbird is a favorite for its size, unique flight, sweet tooth; tiny, elegant, soft nest.

What is your favorite place(s) in the Forest Preserves of Cook County to bird? 

Of the 14 forest preserves visited this year, it is tough to decide on a single location since they are all beautiful, however, since they are close to home, I enjoy Crabtree Nature Center, Spring Creek and Deer Grove.

Birders often brave the elements to see birds, have there been any extreme weather conditions that you have birded in?  

  • Enduring the extreme heat, when I’ve run out of water and got lost in the thick brush
  • Standing in a marsh, while mosquito and other type bugs were attacking my back
  • Being chased by a wasp for ~ 1/2 of a mile, twice at two different forest preserves
  • Getting rained on without any protective measures for my camera and binoculars and lost
  • Mild case of Poison Ivy that, somehow, turned into a severe allergic reaction

What is the most unexpected thing you have seen while birding?   

  • Yellow Billed Cuckoo catching huge dragonflies just above a ponds surface ~20 feet away
  • Coyote 30 feet away
  • White tailed deer family ~7 feet away
  • Red-tailed hawk with a squirrel, ~3 feet away
  • Two male Reindeer ~10 feet away
  • A bur oak tree filled with many Scarlet Tanagers
  • Blue-gray gnatcatcher catching insects out of a huge spider web
  • A large mink leaping into the air ~10 feet away

If you were a bird what kind of bird would you be? 

Since childhood, I have had repetitive dreams that I could fly. I would likely be a hummingbird since they can fly in all directions and have a sweet tooth. I love their crafty and tiny little nest made from spider webs, dainty looking lichen that camouflage the outside, and the soft inside that is lined with cotton from dandelion, cattail, or thistle down.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the interviewee and not necessarily those of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Support for the Bird the Preserves initiative was generously provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through Chicago Wilderness.