Making observations with William Dreuth

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June 7, 2021

Documented bird observations are incredibly useful for understanding species migration and shifts in species populations or range as well as phenology (the timing of seasonal natural events such as plants blooming and bird migration). In the Academy’s collections, we have field journals recording Chicagoans’ observations from 100 or more years ago, allowing us to peak into our regional history. One of these naturalists was William Dreuth.

Dreuth was fascinated with birds. Chicago sits in one of the major flyways for bird migration, so has long been an excellent place to observe and learn about birds. It was along Chicago’s shores of Lake Michigan that Dreuth began his own birding journey. Every morning during bird migration season in the spring and fall for almost 40 years, Dreuth watched the birds coming through the Chicago area and recorded his observations in field journals.

Some of his field notebooks detail various bird species, observation and migration notes from the Chicago area, particularly Lincoln Park! Other notebooks detail trips that he took. In those, he listed bird species, notes weather and geological conditions, and other animals he encountered. He also wrote about the towns he visited. Dreuth’s observational data provide today’s scientists a look into Chicago’s natural history from 1903 to 1943.

Notes like these are just as important to us today as they were to Dreuth when he wrote them! They tell us so much about the species that were common to our area over 100 years ago, but they can also give us clues about how the Chicago area has changed over time.

If you’re interested in contributing to our collective understanding of birds or just want to capture your own observations, download one of the apps, start your own field notebook, or print off one of our neighborhood species sheets, and take it with you on your next nature walk! Be sure to capture what you see, hear, feel, and wonder.

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