by Jorie Dybcio
As students on North Park’s campus scramble to class, the day’s business is on their minds and they forget the campus also hosts numerous species of wildlife. Do they stop to notice the birds flying above them, or the squirrels bouncing before them? Do they even think about the hundreds of fish swimming in the North Branch?
It is impossible to walk through campus without seeing a squirrel scrambling up a nearby tree, especially while squirrels are preparing for their winter harvest at this time of year. Then, of course, how can anyone disregard the North Park bunnies? As the most popularly sighted animal on campus, the North Park bunny has become a mascot of sorts for NPU. At night, the green space is a decorated, strangely geometric field of bunnies.
Walking by the North Branch River, there is a chance you may see Black-Crowned Night Herons flying above you, or hanging out in the surrounding trees. A few other common birds in the area are Rock Pigeons, Mallard Ducks, Robins, Starlings, and Blackbirds.
In addition to the squirrel, bunny, and numerous bird species who share this beautiful campus, there are a few other, less common inhabitants whom students may not be aware of. Last year, North Park’s campus was home to one or two known skunks. This year, however, there appears to be an entire family, if not more, of skunks roaming around the alleyways and down campus streets. Just last week, the back of the Lunds apartments smelled of skunk spray for several days, according to Sam DiBona, the RA in the Lunds.
Skunks have been frequently spotted in the local Chicago suburbs. This year, however, they have been seen closer to the downtown area than ever before. The most abundant city sightings have been in or around the Albany Park neighborhood. Why have our smelly friends suddenly flocked to the neighborhood? Urban Wildlife expert Liza Lehrer claims, “We think they’re getting adapted to living around humans and taking advantage of things cities have to offer."
This is no surprise; skunks have been often seen lurking around the alleyways, feeding on the trash in garbage cans and the litter around them. Curiously, the skunk increase may be attributed to Albany Park’s amount of green space. Urban Wildlife Manager at ABC Humane Wildlife says, “Chicago is a city of parks and the skunks love to eat the grubs and lush grass. Maybe Chicago will be a city of skunks too.” Albany Park has an abundant amount of parks: Gomper’s Park, River Park, and LaBagh Forest, to name a few. It is no surprise that a peculiar amount of skunks have made their homes near campus.
Another overlooked part of Albany Park’s wildlife is the fish - the neighborhood is host to several species only enjoyed by the small fishing community. The North Branch is a small segment of the 156 mile-long Chicago River that flows through the North Park/Albany Park area. The river is host to a plethora of fish, which attract a lot of city fishermen. According to Windy City Fishing: “a very popular spot is where the north branch spills down into the north shore channel at Foster Ave. Accessible from River Park, the spillway dam can be one of the most productive spots on the entire river system.”
North Park students have easy access to the River Park trail, which is a short walk east of the campus, on Carmen Ave. During your next walk to the river, notice the many fishermen scattered along the bank and hoping to catch one of these most common fish in the Chicago River: Largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, rock bass and carp. Once in a while, these fishermen will catch some other breed of fish that has wandered its way from Lake Michigan, into our own North Branch.
In addition to these usual animal neighbors, there are also some odd sightings of random wildlife. Every so often, a day in the park will be rewarded by an encounter with one of the few deer who reside among us. Some have even spyed a river otter near Lincoln Park, a neighborhood on the North Side and not too far from Albany Park. The river otter actually was once quite common in the Chicago river up until the 1970’s, when pollution became too much for them to handle. Now, their numbers have shrunk to less than 100 in all of Illinois, and it is nearly impossible to find one of them in Chicago.
Next time you are traversing through campus, take a moment to appreciate the life around you. Enjoy the squirrels, rabbits, and birds, and don't forget about the wildlife that you can’t see. Although we may feel disconnected from nature in such a big city, there still exists a complex ecosystem that is constantly adapting to the hustle and bustle surrounding it. Be grateful for the way that these animals find a place in our concrete cocoon, despite the fact that we continue to take their homes away day by day, with our constant human expansion.