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Work Underway on Bird Sanctuary in Macomb

Rich Egger
Kate Van Sloten, Eric Little, and David King in front of a small prairie located inside the Wigwam Hollow Bird Sanctuary.

A conservation group is hoping for a big win with a 200-acre woodland it has acquired in Macomb. The site is called the Wigwam Hollow Bird Sanctuary.

Prairie Land Conservancy (PLC), an accredited conservation land trust, plans to restore the land to benefit migratory birds and endangered bats.

Stewardship Coordinator Eric Little said they have quite a bit of work ahead of them.  “It’s going to be a continuous effort out here to control all the invasive species, but once we get everything done it’s going to be a great place out here,” he said.

PLC hopes volunteers will help out. The organization is also doing local fundraising and seeking grants to help pay for the work, which Program Coordinator Kate Van Sloten said could cost $70,000- $100,000.

“We don’t have a ton of funds raised to do the invasive species removal. To date, we’ve raised about $11,400 just this year and we hope to continue to raise funds,” she said. “We’ve been looking for grants and other assistance to help with this project.”

Van Sloten said the project is called the “Bring Birds Back” campaign.

The site is not open to the public right now.  But Van Sloten said PLC plans to eventually create hiking trails and open up the land. 

“We hope eventually that this will be a destination place where folks will come in and visit and hike our trails. We hope birders from all over will come and visit the great town of Macomb,” she said. “Check us out and see what we’re up to.”

On the early December morning when we met at the sanctuary, Van Sloten said she heard a variety of birds including a blue jay, a chickadee, a sparrow, and a woodpecker.

She said research shows three-billion fewer birds are flying today than 50 years ago, and that habitat loss is driving the decline. Van Sloten said birds are pollinators so they play an important role in a healthy ecosystem.

Credit Rich Egger

Background on the Wigwam Hollow Bird Sanctuary

David King, Executive Director of Prairie Land Conservancy, said the Illinois Audubon Society donated 18 acres of the land to the conservancy in 2012. He said PLC acquired another 181 acres in September, 2019 through a complicated land deal.

“There were seven owners. Lew and Sue Marx controlled 75% of the property and their five cousins had 25%. So we bought out the 25-percenters and Lew and his sister Sue donated their 75% interest to us,” King said.

He said the purchase money came from a grant through Enbridge Pipelines, LLC’s Flanagan South Pipeline Mitigation Fund.

“The Flanagan South pipeline runs from Oklahoma to Pontiac, Illinois. Enbridge had to put up millions of dollars in mitigation money because during the installation of that pipeline they destroyed habitat that was beneficial to migratory birds and Indiana bats,” King said.

He said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contacted conservation land trusts along that 600 mile corridor to make sure they knew about the mitigation fund.

King said in addition to the Wigwam Hollow Bird Sanctuary, PLC also bought 550 acres in Banner and three conservation easements – one in Schuyler County and two in McDonough County - with grant money from the mitigation fund.

Kate Van Sloten said Lew Marx has kept a life list of birds that includes more than 200 species.

“He’s an avid birder so as he walked through the property over the years he categorized all of the birds he’s seen,” she said. “We hope to continue adding to that list and do bird population studies (at Wigwam Hollow Bird Sanctuary).”

This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.