Thank you for reading. This blog is an active effort to keep readers informed of current natural events and to offer helpful suggestions for exploring local nature niches in Lake County, Illinois. For many people, “Nature” starts with a capital “N.”

When asked to think of meaningful experiences in the outdoors, many minds automatically turn toward the grand vistas of huge National Parks or long road-trips to far-away destinations. But what might be most beneficial for our health and environment is finding nature niches closer to home. Connect daily, not once a year. Explore the trails, and find your niche in the Lake County Forest Preserves.


About the author  Jen Berlinghof is a graduate of Loyola University and The National Outdoor Leadership School, as well as a Certified Interpretive Guide through The National Association of Interpretation. Her work as an outdoor guide and naturalist has taken her from the canyon lands of Utah to the shores of Lake Superior. Since 2003, she has been discovering nature near her hometown and working as an Environmental Educator for the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois.

Jen birding yellowstone










Behind the scenes  Assisting with editing and photography is Allison Frederick. She is Assistant Public Affairs Manager for the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois. Her background in Forestry and Natural Resources from Purdue University and wildlife monitoring experience is a great fit for the public relations team at a conservation agency. You may notice a shift to Allison’s “voice” from time to time when Jen is away exploring the aforementioned grand vistas.








Behind the scenes  Brett Peto has served as Environmental Communications Specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois since 2017. A graduate of Elmhurst College in 2015, Peto edits copy, selects and retouches photos, and ponders the Latin roots of species names in his spare time. Ever since his first science column in the college newspaper, Peto has found fun in the broad accessibility and deep understanding of complex subjects that effective science writing requires.

© Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum








Guest author Andrew Rutter joined the Natural Resources Department of the Lake County Forest Preserves as a Wildlife Biologist in 2016. But he was already a familiar face, as he had worked as a Southern Illinois University wildlife field technician in various forest preserves. Andrew has a Bachelor’s Degree from Emporia State University and recently received his Master’s Degree from SIU with the Cooperative Wildlife Research Lab studying river otter ecology.







You may contact us at jberlinghof@LCFPD.org and afrederick@LCFPD.org.

Recent Posts

Happy birthday to our hawk

Post by Jen Berlinghof

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a landmark law that protects bird species worldwide. To honor and celebrate this milestone, organizations and citizens have teamed up to designate 2018 the “Year of the Bird.” We at the Lake County Forest Preserves in Lake County, Illinois are celebrating another bird-related milestone this year as our education red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) turns 30 years old.

Our education red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) turned 30 years old this year. Photo © Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark.

Found as an injured, immature bird in 1988 and deemed not releasable to the wild due to a damaged wing, she has spent almost her entire life as an educational ambassador for the Lake County Forest Preserves. During her tenure, she has encountered about 76,000 people through special events and school programs at the forest preserves, teaching them first-hand about Lake County birds of prey. Across three decades, a behind-the-scenes network of more than 70 employees and volunteers has cared for and learned from this majestic raptor. A handful of staff members still at the Lake County Forest Preserves has worked with her from the beginning.

The hawk started serving as an educational ambassador soon after arriving at Ryerson Woods (Riverwoods) in 1989. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.

Starting as a volunteer, Environmental Educator II Jill Stites has worked with the hawk for nearly three decades. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.

Director of Education Nan Buckardt with the hawk in 1989. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.

Lately, we have all been reminiscing, sharing stories of what it’s been like to have the privilege of such intimate access for all these years to the life of the hawk.

There’s a lot to do when you’re caring for a wild hawk. It comes with challenges and rewards. She’s fed her daily rat or quail while perched on our arm atop a thick leather glove. We’ve all learned she can be picky about which parts of her meal she eats (skin and muscle) and which parts (intestines) she flings on your shirt. But watching from inches away as her instincts take over and she uses her razor-like beak to precisely dismantle her prey is a thing of grotesque beauty.

Her hooked beak and dagger-like talons need to be honed so they don’t grow too long, impeding her eating or movement. In the wild, her beak and talons would be naturally filed down as she landed and perched on a variety of surfaces, but due to her limited movement she needs a little help. The hardest part isn’t the trimming itself, but safely wrapping her in a towel and covering her eyes so she remains calm during the process. She knows when it’s trimming time and tends to bate (fly off the glove) and vocalize a ton. Yet, once swaddled securely, she becomes docile. The hum of the Dremel often even lulls her to sleep. Feeling the feathered weight of a sleeping hawk on your lap is an embodiment of the quiet grace often overlooked in this predatory raptor.

Staff trim the hawk's talons and beak safely and regularly. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.

In front of an audience, this large bird of prey commands the room, hushing the crowd and demanding respect by her presence alone. Folks are usually surprised when we tell them she only weighs about as much as a half-gallon of milk. It doesn’t sound like much, but it sure feels like it when you’re holding her on an outstretched arm for long periods of time. The pain fades, though, as you see the awestruck faces of the group when the hawk stretches to reveal her full wingspan or coughs up a pellet in front of them.

The hawk has participated in countless school programs throughout her long life. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.

Through the seasons, we have heard her scream to the migrating hawks flying overhead in the fall and found remains of wild rodents that sought shelter in her mews over the winter, unaware of their impending fate. We have watched her meticulously build a nest and tiptoe her talons around her eggs with care in the spring. We have felt the spray of water as she bathed and preened in her dish on a hot summer day.

These intimate moments through the years that staff and volunteers have been privy to with our red-tailed hawk help remind us that at the end of the day, she is truly wild.

Visit Ryerson Welcome Center (Riverwoods) to see the hawk in her mews. Photo © Jeff Goldberg.

We invite you to share in the joy of her wildness as we celebrate her 30th birthday with a free drop-in program at Ryerson Welcome Center on Sunday, September 23, 12–3 pm. Meet the hawk and our education eastern screech owl. Learn about raptors with hands-on education activities, then make a birthday card for the hawk. Drop in any time starting at 12 pm. No registration required. All ages.

  1. Summer “buzz kill” Leave a reply
  2. “Toadally” awesome! 2 Replies
  3. A tale of two squirrels 1 Reply
  4. Happy New Year! 3 Replies
  5. In search of river otters 4 Replies
  6. Solar eclipse viewing party! Leave a reply
  7. A parade of colors Leave a reply
  8. “Submarine cottages” 3 Replies
  9. Tick season has arrived. 3 Replies