It’s official: Riverside is for the birds. Literally.

Earlier this year, the Audubon Society informed Village President Ben Sells that the Des Plaines River corridor through Riverside has been designated an Important Bird Area after a two-year effort by local volunteers to identify more than 60 species of migratory birds in that area.

“The Riverside Des Plaines River Corridor provides crucial migratory stopover habitat for an abundance of woodland bird species,” said Stephanie Beilke, the Illinois Important Bird Area coordinator and conservation science manager for Audubon Great Lakes, in a letter to Sells in late January.

The campaign to get the village designated an Important Bird Area was spearheaded by local biologist Jill Mateo; her husband, Sells; and Melinda and Steve Pruett-Jones.

Mateo is an associate professor and small mammal biologist at University of Chicago. Melinda Pruett-Jones, a former vice president for applied research at Brookfield Zoo, is executive director of the American Ornithological Society. Steve Pruett-Jones is a professor of ornithology at University of Chicago.

Together with 20 volunteers, the group spent more than 340 hours combined during April and May of 2018 and 2019, observing sections of the Des Plaines River bank from the Riverside Swim Club all the way to Ogden Avenue, identifying and counting migratory birds on a daily basis during their spring migratory period.

According to Mateo, the volunteers “documented 30 critical species in significant numbers, including over 33 warbler species, and documented 62 migratory species overall.”

“This designation is an important part of Riverside’s efforts to conserve and promote our natural areas,” said Mateo in a February press release announcing the news. “The time and expertise put into this process by local birders over two years made it possible. The commitment from the village of Riverside to preserve and expand that native plantings along the corridor also contributed to the IBA designation.”

Mateo was referring to efforts by the village’s Public Works Department as well as volunteers from the Frederick Law Olmsted Society over the past decade to remove invasive species, like buckthorn, from the riverbank and reintroduce native species like milkweed, native sedges, wild rye and wildflowers.

In addition to opening up views to the river, the plantings attract pollinators, including birds.

“Conserving migratory stopover habitat is absolutely critical for ensuring the future of many of our native songbirds and [Riverside’s] work is a true testament to how residential areas can play an active role in supporting conservation,” Beilke said in the press release.

Part of the species documentation effort in 2018 was a celebration of World Migratory Bird Day, featuring guided walks along the riverbank. 

The village will reprise that celebration this year on World Migratory Bird Day, May 9, when officials will formally dedicate the Riverside Des Plaines River Corridor Important Bird Area.

The event, which is open to all ages and birding skill levels, will kick off at 9 a.m. near Swan Pond by the library slope along Burling Road.

Nat Miller, acting executive director of Audubon Great Lakes and director of conservation for Audubon Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi Flyway, will join local officials is making the designation official.