Where the wild things are

Andrea Damewood

Call it flock mentality.

Floating in the one-eighth of the Lagoon that isn’t frozen, the ducks and geese of Evanston tough out the bitter cold winter, refusing to fly south.

“I’m so confused. They’re not supposed to be here!” Medill freshman Ramah Kudaimi said.

But when they’ve got enough to eat, the critters stick around.

The bounty of wildlife in Evanston, ranging from squirrels to Canada geese, is so fat and happy even in subzero temperatures that the animals are not going anywhere for the season.

“These are the Canada geese and mallard ducks that you see most commonly,” said Karen Taira, an environmental educator for the Evanston Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Blvd. “The reason they migrate is due to food source, not weather. The canal here, the Lagoon and some of the industrial ponds don’t freeze over, so they have lots of food sources.”

And the birds have developed some pretty odd habits to rustle up their daily entrees, including foraging in lawns for their vitamins.

Geese are grazing animals, Taira said, and Evanston provides year-round grass for the flocks’ perusal. The geese are found roaming Evanston’s parks daily, eating not only the shrubbery but handouts from park-goers as well.

Squirrels, too, are looking for food. Contrary to popular belief, squirrels do not hibernate, Taira said. They simply grow a warmer coat and go through periods of dormancy, lasting anywhere from a few days to a week.

That means inter-species turf wars sometimes flare up between the bushy-tailed and the finely feathered — and they play out on on the battleground of the bird feeder.

Bird feeders help keep the squirrels chubby and rabbit-sized throughout the winter months, Taira said.

“There’s tons of bird feeders here,” she said. “When a big old squirrel comes, it can knock the feeder over, and they also tend to throw seed out on the ground. That can cause problems for some birds that are not ground feeders, but they’ll go down there anyway.”

Although some residents have tried putting corn on the other end of the lawn to stop the pesky critters from raiding the bird feeders, Taira said “(the squirrels) just don’t know it’s not a squirrel feeder.”

Attempts to keep squirrels out of bird feeders doesn’t stop them from literally diving for their dinners in alternate locations.

“I’ve seen a squirrel haul a strawberry milkshake out of a Dumpster and drink it through a straw,” Weinberg senior Sean Pawley said. “Like two weeks ago, I saw a squirrel eating a piece of pizza by the crust like a human.”

While the Dumpster diving, the never-ending sound of squawking geese and the destroyed feeders are all nuisances for the human inhabitants of arctic Evanston, Taira said the thing that irks her most is the animals’ squandered opportunity.

“It seems a little odd,” she said. “For most of us, if we had the ability to fly south for free, we would.”

But Pawley offered a counter idea: “I guess they must be really intimate with this campus. It’s such a spectacular place that they just didn’t leave.”