northern bobwhite and wild turkey
The northern bobwhite can be identified by its familiar "Bob White" call. They are most common in southern Illinois, but their numbers are decreasing in general. (Their populations are prone to fairly wild fluctuations from year to year.) They are hurt by the loss of grassland pasture.

Wild turkeys were once numerous in Illinois, but were nearly wiped out by 1903. They have been reintroduced and are now becoming established.

They are often found in heavily wooded areas, but also are seen in open areas bordering woods.

ring-necked pheasant (male, left photo,and hen)
Many people are not aware that the common ring-necked pheasant is not a native bird. It was introduced from Asia in 1890. Pheasants live off waste grain, but require some cover so they can successfully nest on the ground.

Modern farming practices leave food, but little cover for pheasants, and their numbers have seen a decline over the past decades.

For some reason, they are almost absent from southern Illinois.  

greater prairie chicken

When European settlers first arrived, greater prairie chickens probably numbered in the millions. Today, only a small population of a few hundred birds remains on a preserve in south-central Illinois.

Greater prairie chickens are still present in parts of their range in the western great plains, but a close Texas cousin, the Attwater's prairie chicken is nearly extinct.

In the spring, male greater prairie chickens put on a show for the females (left photo) on a breeding ground known as a "lek." They inflate their colorful air sacs, stamp their feet and fan their tail feathers as the females check out the prospects.

The ceremonies on the "booming grounds" are quite spectacular. "Booming" comes from the sound the males make which sounds like a person blowing across the top of an empty soda bottle.

Sora and Virginia Rails
Soras are the most numerous of the rails found in Illinois marshes and wet habitats. In summer, they are most often found in northern Illinois, with fewer choosing points south for breeding. They appear to be poor fliers, flying only short distances when flushed. They do, however, migrate as far south as northern South America. Virginia rails are fairly common, although not as numerous as Soras. According to "The Birds of Illinois," Virginia rails would rather run than fly when flushed, preferring to stick close to the cattail and marsh vegetation. All of the five species of rail found in Illinois have declined due to habitat loss.

Photographs by Chris Young, Kanae Hirabayashi and Dennis Oehmke

Click here for more about delayed mowing and preserving grassland habitat.

Please see our page on countryside birds as well.

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