Study Context

Champaign and Urbana are sister cities located in East Central Illinois that were both founded in 1855. Before these cities were established, the area was a vast prairieland with marshes. Today these two cities are home to over 120,000 people. The Champaign-Urbana area has been ranked tenth of the top twenty-five green cities in the United States. The city of Urbana has earned the designation of being a Tree City since 1976. Between Champaign and Urbana, there are nearly one hundred greenspaces to enjoy nature! Champaign-Urbana also includes some of the best remnant forest in East Central Illinois in a landscape dominated by agriculture, and thus, is an important flyaway for birds.

Featured Species

a) The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is the second-most common species in the Champaign-Urbana area in both summer and winter, making it a year-round resident. Named for the brilliant red plumage seen in the males of this species, the Northern Cardinal is the state bird of Illinois and six other states. The Northern Cardinal is a common backyard species seen at bird feeders.

b) American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is the most common species in the winter and the third-most common in the summer in the Champaign-Urbana area, making it a year-round resident. Known for being one of the most intelligent and social birds, the American Crow is known to form huge aggregations consisting of thousands of birds on the UIUC campus in the fall semester.

c) Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) is the most abundant woodpecker in the Champaign-Urbana area in the summer and winter, making it a year-round resident. Similar to the much less common Hairy Woodpecker, the Downy Woodpecker is the smallest local woodpecker and a common feeder bird. The “Downy” in Downy Woodpecker is a reference to the soft white feathers of the white stripe on the lower back.

d) American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is one of the most common species in the Champaign-Urbana area (and in the United States!) in the summer and the eighth-most common in the winter. The scientifice name comes from the fact that the American Robin populations migrate. Being the most prolific singers, the American Robins are the first birds to sing in the morning and they will continue for hours at a time.

e) Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) is fourth-most common bird species in the summer in the Champaign-Urbana area, but very rare in the winter. These birds are North America’s best known brood parasite, which means they lay eggs in other birds’ nests and do not care for their own young. Brown-headed Cowbirds originally followed buffalo hers that were highly nomadic, which is probably how they evolved brood parasitsm as a reproductive strategy. Because of this, the Brown-headed Cowbird has become a classic example of a coevolutionary arms race between a host and a parasite, which means that some of the hosts reject their eggs and others accept them.

Check out these sources for additional information!

Information about Champaign and Urbana

More information about the Tree City USA program

Champaign-Urbana birding links