Urban wildlife study sets its sights on Oak Park

Putting the focus on furry co-habitors

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By Megan Dooley

Staff Reporter

You're not likely to find a bear lurking around Oak Park in the middle of the night. And cougars generally stay away (though one was shot in Chicago in 2008). But certain wild animals do call metropolitan areas home. Raccoons, for instance, and coyotes.

Come spring, Oak Park may be the next site for a study that targets these and other urban carnivores in a long-term attempt to facilitate better relations with their human neighbors.

"These are carnivore species that frequently get into conflict situations with humans," said Dr. Seth Magle, a researcher for the Urban Wildlife Institute of Lincoln Park Zoo, the entity responsible for the animal study, which is already active throughout the Chicago Park District and in forest preserves stretching across four counties: Cook, DuPage, Lake and Will.

"Our primary goal ... is to understand how it is that urban wildlife are surviving and persisting in these urban areas like Chicago, and then trying to develop methods by which we can minimize conflict between humans and wildlife in urban areas," said Magle.

He and his colleagues install motion-sensor cameras in trees throughout non-developed urban areas where animals tend to thrive, including parks, forest preserves, golf courses and cemeteries. The cameras are designed to capture animal behavior patterns.

It's a first step in what will likely be a complex and drawn-out research project. But this first step should answer important preliminary questions about how animals are surviving in an urban landscape, and how they come into conflict with people, Magle said.

"We feel like the first step is to understand: Where are they? What parts of the city are they using? Can we predict which types of neighborhoods or which types of areas are more likely to see these species?" said Magle.

"Our idea is to understand — as you move out the city and the degree of urbanization and the density of people and buildings changes — where can we see changes in these wildlife communities," he said.

Oak Park is a very attractive candidate for the study because of its proximity to Chicago. "[It's] very interesting to us, because that's where you're starting to see the density of development decreasing a little bit," said Magle.

The plan has not yet been approved by the Park District of Oak Park, but Mike Grandy, superintendent of buildings and grounds, said the park board is supportive of the plan. "None of our leadership over here has a problem with the concept," he said. Still, the issue remains up in the air while the village's risk management team makes sure the town would be free of any liability. Grandy said the board is still waiting for that letter before signing off on the project.

If they get the OK, Urban Wildlife Institute researchers would come in and install cameras in a number of locations around town. "Our normal sampling design is, we're trying to capture all four seasons. We usually put cameras out for a month each season," Magle said. And the total study would span five years, minimum. "The thing about these ecological studies is you often need longtime spans of data to really be able to see anything interesting. We think one of the real strengths of our approach is that we're going to have years and years of data by the time we're done," he said.

So far, the researchers are monitoring some 80 cameras they've already set up for the study. If they get approval from all the necessary bodies, the total number involved in the project would be somewhere around 180.

Unfortunately, the instruments are subject to theft and vandalism. "They are locked up, so they're not completely defenseless," said Magle, of the cameras, which he described as boxes roughly 4 inches wide, 4 inches deep, and 8 inches high. "But especially determined people can either steal or break the cameras and that has happened. We do want to try to minimize that, so we try not to publicize the exact location of the cameras," he said.

Which means that if the study does come to Oak Park, we won't likely be told which areas the institute is planning to observe. But if all goes as planned and the park district approves the study, then the animal monitoring could start up quite soon.

"I think our focus with Oak Park is that it would be great if we could get those set out in the spring, so some time probably in April," Magle said.

Reader Comments

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john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: May 4th, 2011 12:13 PM

I (Adams and Oak Park Av)have seen coyotes three times now at night and during the day. They keep their distance and are quickly aware of your presence. Having lived in urban areas with packs of dogs, rats, and over-sized insects, I will take OP's coyotes, possums, and rabbits any time. They add mystery and charm to the night.

Andrea from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2011 11:50 AM

Last Saturday night (April 30th)close to midnight, I saw one coyote sitting in the middle of the street (700 Linden) and another one on a lawn. As I drove closer to the coyote in the street, he casually walked over to the sidewalk and sat down and watched me go by.

Dan Moroney from Oak park  

Posted: May 1st, 2011 10:49 PM

Two coyotes ran across Augusta at Marion the night of April 25th right in front of my car. I followed them as they ran down the 600 block of Marion.

laura from oak park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 11:29 PM

I just saw one in my front yard tonight--it was howling and definitely did not sound like a dog so we looked out the window and there it was! (Taylor and Ontario)

John V. from Oak Park  

Posted: April 19th, 2011 4:08 PM

I saw a coyote at Jackson and East last Thursday about 4:45 am.

Mr. McGregor  

Posted: April 19th, 2011 7:25 AM

I wish the coyote would come over to NE Oak Park and catch the rabbits that have taken over my garden.

Bob Larson from Oak Park  

Posted: April 19th, 2011 6:59 AM

I think I just saw a coyote about 5:45AM today running across Home just south of Mills Park. Brownish/gray & looked healthy. It was either a coyote or a smaller, thin German sheperd running lose!

Walking Dog on Van Buren from Oak Park  

Posted: April 11th, 2011 10:17 AM

Saw this large coyote running down Van Buren today 4 at 7:30am. Gray white color, looked like the Wolfcoyote type. Scarey fellow, headed towards Longfellow School!

Tom Scharre  

Posted: March 27th, 2011 11:03 AM

My wife saw one strolling down the middle of Greenfield Street, just east of Kenilworth, about a month ago.

J.G.Morales from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2011 3:50 AM

I'm positively elated that I found this, because no one believed me lol. I saw my first coyote about a year ago, and another about an hour ago. The one I saw tonight crossed Oak Park just north of Lake, and looked to have caught something. The one from last year crossed Ridgeland by Madison and stared me down from the Julian parking lot till I passed! (That was absolutely terrifying!) Everyone was certain it must have been a dog. I know my animals! lol

Brent Borgerson from Oak Park  

Posted: February 25th, 2011 10:43 PM

not the more scrawny Western Coyotes

Brent Borgerson from Oak Park  

Posted: February 25th, 2011 10:42 PM

Coyote sightings are getting more frequent. Last year at Adams and Clinton one trotted West in the street. Last week a different coyote was galloping West on Jackson at Home. this one used the sidewalk. Both were large and in good shape. They looked to be the wolf/coyote cross that are seen East of the Mississippi, not the more scrawny

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