Guest Blog by Jeff Reiter, Birding Program Coordinator, Cantigny Park, Wheaton, IL. Cantigny Golf in Wheaton, Illinois, holds a fun birding event on the second Saturday of May every year, coinciding with International Migratory Bird Day.
Watching birds on an active, manicured golf course may seem a little unusual. A busy golf course is not the first place you think of going for a bird walk in May, right? But Cantigny is no ordinary golf course. Four years after opening in 1989 it became a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, designated as such by Audubon International and the United States Golf Association. The two organizations are partners in offering a national program for golf courses aimed at promoting ecologically sound land management and the conservation of natural resources. Cantigny was the ninth course in the nation to earn sanctuary status.
The Birdwatching Open concept grew out of the Audubon/USGA program. Public and private golf courses throughout the U.S. once “competed” every spring, with birders keeping score by recording how many species they see or hear.
Audubon International stopped administering the Open a few years ago but Cantigny Golf kept it going. The annual event is highly popular and this year has a waiting list to join the 20-birder roster on May 13. Early May is the peak of spring migration in northern Illinois so an exciting list of sightings is guaranteed. This year’s team will try to top 85 species, Cantigny’s best Birdwatching Open score so far, set in 2015.
The “B.O.” is great fun, of course, but it also has the serious purpose of bringing attention to the important role that golf courses can play in providing high-quality habitat for birds and other wildlife. Birders and golfers alike can’t help but notice Cantigny’s thriving purple martin colony, dozens of bluebird nest boxes and active beekeeping program. Certain areas of the golf course are left “wild” and the maintenance crew thinks twice before removing a dead snag that may be useful for cavity nesting birds. Cantigny is locally famous for its red-headed woodpeckers, an uncommon and declining species in the Chicago region.
Golf course superintendent Scott Witte clearly appreciates that his responsibilities go beyond turf care and bunker maintenance.
“We are proud to be a certified sanctuary,” he says. “That designation, for the golf course and all of Cantigny, did not come easily and we take it very seriously. Habitat management will always be a priority here.”
Cantigny Golf and the adjacent Cantigny Park are part of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, a public charity based in Chicago. Cantigny is the 500-acre former country estate of Robert McCormick (1880-1955), longtime editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. More information is online at Cantigny.org.