Join Us for the FREE Film Festival in the Woods

PicnicA blanket and picnic in the middle of the woods, under the moonlight with the summer sounds of nature all around sets the stage for the 2013 Film Festival in the Woods. This year’s festival kicks off at Ryerson Woods, on Saturday, August 17, 2013 with an evening of art, films, food and music at Brushwood. The second night, Wednesday, August 21, goes indoors for a selection from the Chicago Latino Film Festival, Aventura Verde or Green Adventure, presented in Spanish with English subtitles at the Ryerson Woods Welcome Center. Then the festival closes under the stars at the Park District of Highland Park’s Heller Nature Center with the Pixar classic WALL-E on Saturday, August 24, providing fun for the whole family. Music will be provided on each night by the Music Institute of Chicago

Schedule of Events, Saturday, August 17:
6:00 p.m.                             Open Seating, Ryerson Woods near Brushwood
6:30 p.m.                             Classical Guitar Performance: Mitchell Green 
7:00 p.m.                             Art Exhibition Gallery Tour: waterCOLOR skySCAPE         7:30 p.m.                             Films Begin

curried_awayGuests can bring a picnic, chairs and blankets to make it a comfortable outdoor setting to enjoy the short films. Or leave the picnic baskets at home and buy dinner from a gourmet food truck on site.

Schedule of Events, Wednesday, August 21:
6:00 p.m.                             Open Seating, Ryerson Woods Welcome Center
6:15 – 6:45 p.m.                Bilingual Hike (Start at Welcome Center)
6:30 p.m.                             Guitar Performance: Brad Conroy
7:30 p.m.                             Aventura Verde begins

Schedule of Events, Saturday, August 24:
7:00 p.m.                             Open Seating, Heller Nature Center
                                                Musical Performance: Fifth House Ensemble 
8:15 p.m.                             WALL-E begins

Each night is free and open to the public. This program is presented in partnership with the Lake County Forest Preserve District, Heller Nature Center, the Chicago Latino Film Festival and the Music Institute of Chicago. It is sponsored by Whole Foods® Market Deerfield.

Adriana McClintock
Director of Development and Communications

Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot

Ginkgo biloba in autumn
Ginkgo biloba in autumn

by Sophie Twichell, executive director of Friends of Ryerson Woods

When you think of Ginkgo, what comes to mind?  Do you have memories that involve Ginkgo?  Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) has been used in traditional medicine to treat blood disorders and to enhance memory. For some reason, I can never remember if it is Ginkgo or St. John’s Wort that one should take for memory . . . clearly a sign that it’s time for me to add Ginkgo to my daily vitamin regimen!

Characteristic shape of the Ginkgo leaf.

I do have memories that revolve around Ginkgo.  I remember as a young girl when my parents planted a Ginkgo tree on the south side of my childhood home.  That was my first introduction to this unique tree.  It made an impression due to its unusual leaf shape but even more so due to my parents’ excitement. We watched it grow for many years.  Even though they moved out of that house 25 years ago, my mother still thinks about that tree: “Remember the Ginkgo tree we planted on Ridge Road? I loved that tree.”

Ginkgos are dioecious, with separate sexes, some trees being female and others being male. Females produce seeds with a fleshy outer layer, which contains butyric acid and smells like rancid butter or vomit.
Ginkgos are dioecious, with separate sexes, some trees being female and others being male. Females produce seeds with a fleshy outer layer, which contains butyric acid and smells like rancid butter or vomit.

My second memory is not as rosy.  Each fall during college in Philadephia in the late 1980s, I had to change my regular route to class due to a pesky Ginkgo tree. A female tree dropped a mass of seeds on the sidewalk, which created a sticky, slimy, smelly mess.  Apparently, the fleshy coating of the seeds contains butyric acid, which is also found in rancid butter. Yuck!

Before I knew to avoid this block in spring, I did walk through this mess on the sidewalk and didn’t think much of it.  Later in class, I became extremely self-conscious as I realized that the smell of vomit permeating the classroom was emanating from me — the soles of my shoes reeked!  I must admit, this marred my appreciation for the Ginkgo for a number of years.  Getting that smelly slime off my shoes was nasty. Clearly, the elegant tree I’d grown up with was a well-mannered male.

Because they tolerate pollution, resist pests and disease, and don’t mind confined spaces, Ginkgos are widely planted in urban environments as street shade trees.
Because they tolerate pollution and confined spaces, as well as resist pests and disease, Ginkgos are widely planted in urban environments as street trees.

Despite the practical challenges the female Ginkgo may pose, one can’t deny that this is a most intriguing tree. Native to Asia, it is incredibly resilient.  Many cities plant the hardy Ginkgo because of its ability to survive the trials of road salt, pests and smog.  It is a popular shade tree along city streets. Believe it or not, six Ginkgo trees survived the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. Situated near the blast center, they budded after the blast without major deformities and are still alive today. Wow.  As a result, some regard Ginkgo as the “bearer of hope.”

Because we like to explore the intersection of art and nature at Ryerson Woods, I wanted to share a poem by the German poet, scientist, botanist and
philosopher, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe on the subject of the Ginkgo. It was first published in 1819.

Gingo Biloba

This leaf from a tree in the East,

Has been given to my garden.

Goethe sent Marianne von Willemer (1784-1860) a Ginkgo leaf as a symbol of friendship. He took the two leaves pasted onto the poem from the Ginkgo tree in the garden of Heidelberg Castle which he had visited with her.
Goethe sent Marianne von Willemer (1784-1860) a Ginkgo leaf as a symbol of friendship. He took the two leaves pasted onto the poem from the Ginkgo tree in the garden of Heidelberg Castle which he had visited with her.

It reveals a certain secret,

Which pleases me and thoughtful people.

Is it a living being,

Which has separated in itself?

Or are these two, who chose

To be recognized as one?

Answering this kind of question,

Haven’t I found the proper meaning,

Don’t you feel in my songs,

That I’m one and double?

At Friends of Ryerson Woods, we seek to bring the residents of Chicagoland’s North Shore the highest quality nature programming. As such, we are delighted to offer a public program on “Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot” by Sir Peter Crane, dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Peter Crane headshot-smallSir Peter is the Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental   Studies at Yale University. His work focuses on the diversity of plant life: its origin and fossil history, current status, and conservation and use. His latest book, A Biography of Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot, was released in March 2013. Sir Peter has been the John and Marion Sullivan University professor at the University of Chicago, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and director of the Field Museum in Chicago with overall responsibility for the museum’s scientific programs.  Sir Peter was knighted in the United Kingdom in 2004 for services to horticulture and  conservation.  Sir Peter knows so much about Ginkgo, an extinct species of Ginkgo is named after him.  Ginkgo cranei was discovered from fossils found in North Dakota.


Here are some facts about Ginkgo that Sir Peter shared with us in anticipation of his talk.

1. Ginkgo is a botanical oddity. Like the platypus among animals, it is a single peculiar species with no close living relatives.

The iconic fan-shaped leaves of ginkgo have been identified as fossils from every continent. Living ginkgo trees have changed little from those that lived 200 million years ago.
The iconic fan-shaped leaves of Ginkgo have been identified as fossils from every continent. Living Ginkgo trees have changed little from those that lived 200 million years ago.

2. The iconic fan-shaped leaves of ginkgo have been identified as fossils from every continent. Living ginkgo trees have changed little from those that lived 200 million years ago.

3. Almost driven to extinction by climate change, wild ginkgo trees survive only in China. But you can see ginkgo today in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, on the streets of Manhattan, and in parks and gardens in all but the warmest and coldest places on our planet.

4. In the East, Ginkgo has been cultivated for a thousand years for its edible seeds, and many ancient trees are greatly revered by followers of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shintoism.

5. The oldest living ginkgo trees in Europe date from 1730–1750, when ginkgo was introduced from the East. The oldest ginkgo in North America was planted in the 1780s in the Pennsylvania garden of John Bartram, a prominent early American botanist.

6. Today ginkgo is grown as a botanical curiosity and a resilient street tree; extracts from ginkgo leaves have also become a top-selling herbal medicine that is believed to improve memory and learning. Its efficacy, however, remains controversial.

After all this contemplation of the Ginkgo tree, I think it is time for me to plant a Ginkgo tree at my own house so I can pass on the appreciation of this distinctive tree to my children.  A male tree, that is!

I hope you’ll join us on Thursday evening, June 6 at 7pm at the Welcome Center at Ryerson Woods, to learn about the mysteries of Ginkgo tree from one of the world’s most brilliant botanists.  Thanks to our friends at Lake Forest Book Store, we’ll have copies of Ginkgo available for sale and signing. I can’t wait to learn more fascinating facts about Ginkgo.  I look forward to seeing you there.


Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot
with Sir Peter Crane, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

Welcome Center, 7:00 p.m.
Ryerson Woods
21950 N. Riverwoods Rd.
Deerfield, IL 60015
Cost: $20 (or $10 for FRW members)
Register:  here or call 847.968.3321 for member discount

Ginkgo coverABOUT THE BOOK (from Yale University Press)

Perhaps the world’s most distinctive tree, ginkgo has remained stubbornly unchanged for more than two hundred million years. A living link to the age of dinosaurs, it survived the great ice ages as a relic in China, but it earned its reprieve when people first found it useful about a thousand years ago. Today ginkgo is beloved for the elegance of its leaves, prized for its edible nuts, and revered for its longevity. This engaging book tells the full and fascinating story of a tree that people saved from extinction – a story that offers hope for other botanical biographies that are still being written. Inspired by the historic ginkgo that has thrived in London’s Kew Gardens since the 1760s, renowned botanist Peter Crane explores the evolutionary history of the species from its mysterious origin through its proliferation, drastic decline, and ultimate resurgence. Crane also highlights the cultural and social significance of the ginkgo: its medicinal and nutritional uses, its power as a source of artistic and religious inspiration, and its importance as one of the world’s most popular street trees. Readers of this extraordinarily interesting book will be drawn to the nearest ginkgo, where they can experience firsthand the timeless beauty of the oldest tree on Earth.


Ginkgo takes a place among the best books on plants that I have had the pleasure of reading. It provides an extremely interesting account of a remarkable plant through space, time, and culture.”—Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden
“Peter Crane provides a compelling and definitive portrait of the Tree That Time Forgot: its ancient lineage, its natural history, and history interwoven with people….an eye-opening page turner about the Ginkgo in particular and trees in general. A triumph of beautifully written scholarship.”—Thomas E. Lovejoy, University Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University
“The Ginkgo is the elder statesman of the plant world, and Peter Crane’s erudite and fascinating biography is as absorbing as any account of the life of a Churchill or a Lincoln.”—Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor, The Independent, London
All Ginkgo images derived from Wikimedia Commons. Image of Dr. Crane and book cover from Yale University Press.

Project Passenger Pigeon – From Billions to None

Artists conception of mural being installed in downtown Cincinnati that features John Ruthven’s mural of passenger pigeons flying over the Cincinnati Zoo in the 1870s.
Artists conception of mural being installed in downtown Cincinnati as part of P3 that features John Ruthven’s mural of passenger pigeons flying over the Cincinnati Zoo in the 1870s.

Do you know about Project Passenger Pigeon (P3)?  It is an international effort to mark the 100th anniversary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction in 2014. Friends of Ryerson Woods is a P3 partner.

The passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America and likely the world, with a population that likely exceeded a billion as late as 1860. But because it was the cheapest terrestrial protein, it was subjected to unrelenting exploitation that drove it to near extinction by the first few years of the twentieth century when the last wild birds were shot. All that remained were a handful of individuals in captivity, the last of which (Martha) keeled over in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.

Passenger pigeon specimens from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's collections.
Passenger pigeon specimens from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s collections.

The story of the passenger pigeon has great relevance to us today. There is no better cautionary tale to the proposition that no matter how abundant something is, be it inanimate ―water, oil, etc.―or alive, it can be lost if we are not circumspect in our use. P3 seeks to familiarize the public with the story of the passenger pigeon and then to make the connections with current issues related to extinction and our place in nature. P3 intends to do this through its web-site, social media, curriculum, a book, and a variety of exhibits and programs.  Friends of Ryerson Woods has adopted the centenary as its 2014 theme, and we are developing a rich slate of public programs for 2014 that explore the themes of extinction and species survival.  We are partnering with other Lake County organizations to present a wide range of activities, exhibitions and presentations for you to enjoy throughout the year.

One program you won’t want to miss is a book talk by natural history historian and author Joel Greenberg. Joel has written the first comprehensive book on the passenger pigeon in 50 years.  It is being published by Bloomsbury USA and will be released early in 2014.  We’ve secured Joel for an author event on Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 7pm.  This event will be held at the Greenbelt Cultural Center and is being presented in partnership with Lake County Forest Preserves, Lake Forest College, Lake Forest Open Lands and the Wildlife Discovery Center.  Copies of Joel’s forthcoming book, Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction, will be available for sale and signing.

Filming for the documentary with author Joel Greenberg and senior curator of urban ecology Steve Sullivan of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in the museum collections.
Filming for the documentary with author Joel Greenberg and senior curator of urban ecology Steve Sullivan of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in the museum collections.

The single element that can reach the most people is the documentary being made by director David Mrazek, “From Billions to None.” It is also the most expensive element. As such, P3 recently launched an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign and has already raised $22,000 of its $65,000 goal. These funds will allow for additional animation, trips to significant sites, production assistance, and other important tasks.  We’d love to be able to screen this film for you in 2014.  Would you be interested in supporting the production of this important film?

Here is the link:

Magical Evening at Ryerson Woods

photo (2)
Model Allison Saum wears an original dress designed by Friends of Ryerson Woods Administrative Coordinator Julia Kemerer.
(Photo credit: Adriana McClintock)

Ryerson Woods is a magical, natural wonderland in the spring – full of native flowers covering the forest bed, trees as far as the eye can see and a host of beautiful creatures living inside. This past Saturday at the 30th annual Smith Nature Symposium, a new and delightful figure appeared in the woods. “Bird Girl” welcomed guests to the symposium in a dress made of moss, hand-painted birds, butterflies and flowers.

Celebrating 30 years is a special occasion and we knew we needed something equally special to dazzle our guests. I thought about a garden dress I came across some time ago. Cascading rows of planters made up an elaborate and dramatic piece of art and nature, the very intersection we cross with our mission at Friends. Many of the events I have done in the past have had a performance artist or some artistic feature to wow guests so I approached our group to see if we could do something similar.

With a passion for design, the project sparked the interest of Friends of Ryerson Woods administrative coordinator and multi-media artist Julia Kemerer. She quickly came up with a concept and got to work.

The hardest part was manipulating chicken wire to form the lower half of the dress and covering it with natural materials, such as Spanish moss, green mountain moss and Black Lichen. Poor Julia was covered in cuts and scratches, as well as the materials and glue. It was a labor of love, though, because it ignited her creative spirit and she was able to focus her energy into a project close to her heart.

Guests were tickled to see the finished product and enjoyed taking pictures with “Bird Girl” throughout the night. Her hat, adorned in hand-painted eggs atop a gorgeous nest, balanced delicately on her head as she made her way through the party interacting with guests. She then rallied the crowd to raise their paddles for fundraising.

photo (1)
Photo Credit: Adriana McClintock

It was an incredible evening, made possible by so many great moments and helping hands. Kenn Kaufman delivered an informative and funny keynote address. Sophie Twichell, executive director at Friends, lovingly honored longtime friend and former colleague Doug Stotz, the 2013 conservation award winner. Last, and certainly not least, the Lake County Forest Preserve District worked tirelessly to take care of setting up, providing staff and volunteers, chauffeuring guests to the front door and so much more. We couldn’t do it without you!

Thank you to all involved to help make this a memorable year!

Adriana McClintock
Director of Development and Communications

5 Tips for Planning Your Spring Garden

What are you planting in your garden this year? Whether you are growing herbs, flowers, vegetables or fruit, here are five tips to help you with your green thumb this spring.

cropped flower


  1. Timing is everything. Plug your zip code into Sprout Robot to make sure you are planting the right thing at the right time. This easy to use website gives you step-by-step instructions with illustrations to help you get started.
  2. Use native plants and flowers when you can. Attend our free Midwestern Native Garden workshop in partnership with the Lake County Forest Preserves to find out how you can makeover your garden with native plants on Thursday, April 18 from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. in the Welcome Center at Ryerson Woods.
  3. Be creative! You can recycle almost anything to use as a planter. Subscribe to our Pinterest gardening page to get inspired by tips and ideas. Garden Pins1
  4. Protect your plants and trees. Mulching helps to maintain soil moisture, control weeds and improve soil fertility. Take a look at many organic options available at The Mulch Center in Deerfield, a Friends of Ryerson Woods sponsor.
  5.  Enjoy the outdoors with children. Nurture your garden and pass along your knowledge to a young person to help them appreciate nature. Show them how to collect vegetables from the garden or watch flowers grow. Use the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights from Chicago Wilderness’ Leave No Child Inside initiative as a guide.

Adriana McClintock
Director of Development and Communications

Drawn to Nature II

Bull thistle illustration (Cirsium vulgare) by Derek Norman

Drawn to Nature II
by Dr. Gregory M. Mueller

Re-posted with author’s permission from the Chicago Botanic Garden website.

Recently, I helped kick off an exhibition of artwork focusing on wildflowers and other plants found in Midwestern woodlands and prairies. This amazing show, at Ryerson Woods in (Deerfield), Illinois, features works by members of the Reed-Turner Artists’ Circle, some of whom teach in the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden. This exhibition and activities related to it provide a terrific example of what a “citizen artist” program can accomplish, helping to protect our native plants and the benefits they provide humankind by documenting their beauty and engaging the public.

The Artists’ Circle works to further the interests of botanical art, conservation science, botany, and horticulture at the local level. To highlight the beauty and importance of plants in our lives, the Artists’ Circle promotes and exhibits members’ work in collaboration with local and regional institutions.

In my opening remarks, I spoke briefly about how all life depends on plants, which is one of the basic tenets of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Plants provide us with food, shelter, oxygen, and medicine; they also provide vital services such as climate regulation, air and water quality improvement, and flood control. Yet we are in the midst of a well-documented plant biodiversity crisis, and some experts estimate that up to one-third of the world’s plant species may become extinct within the next 50 years. Unfortunately, far too little is being done to address this crisis. In fact, much of society suffers from “plant blindness,”an inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment.

Members of the Artists’ Circle, thankfully, are acutely tuned in to the environment, viewing plants and their role in the world with a unique clarity of vision. Not only are they producing beautiful works of art, they are thinking about developing a “citizen artist” program, and some members have been brainstorming about this idea with me. This program would parallel and enhance the important work that citizen scientists are performing throughout the region and beyond, through Garden involvement in such programs as Project BudBurst and Plants of Concern.

The Drawn to Nature II exhibition, which runs through April 30, highlights the important contributions of botanical artists. It is impossible to be unimpressed by the beauty and complexity of plants when viewing the outstanding drawings and paintings here, created by members of the Artists’ Circle. The subtlety of the art prompts the viewer to see these objects of nature in a new light, eliciting a powerful, emotional response. By provoking such a visceral response, botanical art becomes an effective tool in fighting plant blindness.

Dr. Gregory M. Mueller serves as vice president of Science at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Before joining the Garden, Dr. Mueller worked for 23 years at The Field Museum as curator of mycology in the Department of Botany. He was chair of the Field Museum’s Department of Botany from 1996 to 2005. Dr. Mueller received his B.A. and M.S. from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee. He is also a member of the Friends of Ryerson Woods Advisory Board. 

Friends of Ryerson Woods Artist Tapped for Prince Charles Botanical Project

Heeyoung Kim1Friends of Ryerson Woods volunteer and art instructor Heeyoung Kim is one of eight artists selected worldwide, and the only artist from the United States, to record the flora of Transylvania in May 2013. She will travel to central Romania to study and illustrate botanical figures that may be selected for inclusion in Transylvania Florilegium. This project is sponsored by the Prince’s School of Traditional Art, a charitable organization of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

Prince Charles hopes to document the flora in Transylvania as he did for his own garden in England with a pair of botanical illustration books, Highgrove Florilegium, which were published in 2008 and 2009. They contain paintings from the Prince’s garden by leading botanical artists from around the world, which were reproduced from watercolors to color plates. Only 175 sets were produced of each book and autographed by His Royal Highness.

“I am so excited and honored to be selected for this project,” said Kim. “I will be working along-side some of the most talented botanical artists in the world. I hope that I can inspire them with my art and learn something from them too.” If her work is chosen, Kim will be featured in the latest rare and historical book.

Born and educated in South Korea, Kim started studying botanical art at the age of 43. While she may be relatively new to botanical art, she has quickly become an expert in the field. Kim has been documenting prairie and woodland native plants in the Midwest for over five years. She feels her background in education and her father’s herbal medicine practice gave her the tools to find her true calling as a botanical artist.

Compass Plant_Silphium laciniatum heeyoung kim-1She became fascinated with the prairie and perennial plants when she moved to the United States because she had never seen anything like it in Korea, where she lived in an urban area full of skyscrapers and concrete.

“The prairie was totally new to me. The open landscape made me feel free,” Kim said. Her husband’s work brought her to Northbrook, Illinois several years ago. Since then she has made a niche for herself in the botanical art community.

In 2012, she exhibited eight paintings of native prairie plants at the Royal Horticulture Society in London where she received a gold medal. In the same year she was awarded “Best in Show” at the 15th International Botanical Art Exhibition at the Horticultural Society of New York and the “Diane Bouchier Artist Award for Excellence in Botanical Art” from the American Society of Botanical Artists.

Kim’s work will be shown in an upcoming collective exhibit, Drawn to Nature II: Recent Works by the Reed-Turner Botanical Artists’ Circle, at Friends of Ryerson Woods. The show opens from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., Sunday, March 3, 2013 in the historic Brushwood home, 21850 N. Riverwoods Road in Deerfield, Illinois 60015. The public is invited to attend the opening reception. No admission or preregistration is required. This exhibition will run through April 30, 2013.

Students wishing to study under Kim can register for classes at Friends of Ryerson Woods. Botanical Art Open Workshop runs weekly from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. beginning on Monday, March 4, 2013. It is designed for any level art student, including beginner, and costs $40 for single classes. Four classes can be selected by students for a discounted rate of $150. Vegetable Drawing: Graphite Pencil runs weekly from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. beginning on Saturday, March 9, 2013. Cost for this course is $300 for the general public, $240 for Friends of Ryerson Woods members.

Adriana McClintock                                                                                                               Director of Development and Communications

Coyotes in the Neighborhood

Coyote illustration by Gretchen Baker.

Friends of Ryerson Woods hosted a panel discussion on “The Hidden World of Wolves and Coyotes” in November 2012.  Afterwards, our executive director, Sophie Twichell, was invited to write an article on misconceptions about coyotes for the Lake Bluff Open Lands Association’s newsletter. We thought our readers might be interested in this information as well.  Let us know if you learned something new after reading the article. Enjoy! 

by Sophie Twichell

Do you hear coyotes howling at night? See them trotting down the sidewalk or crossing streets? Without a doubt, coyotes are active members of our North Shore communities.  But, how much do we really understand this medium-sized member of the dog family (along with wolves and foxes)?  Coyotes are often misunderstood, as well as underappreciated for the valuable role they are playing.  Learning more about these elusive creatures is the best way for us to live harmoniously with coyotes.

Coyotes, Canis latrans, are native to North America and currently occur throughout most of the continent. Their historical range prior to 1700 was restricted to the prairies and desert areas of Mexico and central North America. But over the past few centuries, coyotes have dramatically expanded their range across North America and now are found in an increasing number of cities in the United States and Canada. In addition to occurring in natural areas, coyotes are also found in a range of human-populated areas, including rural farms, suburbs and cities.

Stan Gehrt, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State University, has been leading a team of researchers studying urban coyotes in the Chicago metropolitan region since 2000.  Gehrt’s team has caught and marked 661 coyotes, including radio collaring 379.  He recently shared fascinating facts about coyotes with 200 curious community members at the Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago at an event sponsored by Friends of Ryerson Woods and Conserve Lake County.

Stan Gehrt has been studying urban coyotes in Chicago since 2000. Photo courtesy of S. Gehrt.

Here is a sampling of what Gehrt’s team has discovered about coyotes on our region:

–          Most adults weigh between 25-35 lbs. A few big ones weigh in the 42-43 lbs. range. There are no 50 lb. coyotes.

–          They have individual personalities. Some are shy, others aggressive. Some howl often, others hardly at all.  Individual variation is tremendous.

–          Packs are made of family members and are very territorial.

–          Howling is a way to bring family members together, as well as to establish territory; it is not a sign of aggression or hunting.

–          Coyotes are monogamous for life; pairs only split upon the death of a mate.

–          The average litter size is 4-7 pups, although can range from 3-15.

–          Male coyotes help raise the young just as much as females.

–          February is the peak of mating season for coyotes; litters are born in April.

–          During mating and gestation is the only time coyotes will voluntarily use a den (a burrow in the ground or hollowed out tree); otherwise, coyotes usually sleep above ground in the open or in cover.

–          In captivity, coyotes can live 13 to 15 years, but in the wild, most die before they reach three years of age. Gehrt’s study found that coyotes generally have a 60 percent chance of surviving one year.

–          Coyotes inhabit virtually every green space of any significant size throughout the Chicago metropolitan region; if they are removed, new ones will move right in.

–          Coyotes in the Chicago metropolitan area confine most of their activity to nocturnal hours, whereas in natural areas, coyotes tend to be diurnal (active during the day) or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk). This reduces the likelihood of interacting with humans.

–          Coyotes are incredibly adaptable. Gehrt showed video of coyotes crossing city streets and even interstates safely, apparently looking both ways before crossing the street and following green lights.

Over 200 people came out to the Greenbelt Cultural Center in November 2012 to learn more about coyotes. Photo courtesy of Conserve Lake County.
Over 200 people joined us at the Greenbelt Cultural Center in November 2012 to learn more about coyotes. Photo courtesy of Conserve Lake County.

Much controversy revolves around what coyotes eat.  Gehrt’s study has provided fascinating information, including some unexpected results.  A study of coyote scat (poop) revealed that the most common food items are small rodents (42 percent), fruit (23 percent), deer (22 percent), and rabbit (18 percent). They also will eat birds, frogs, skunks, insects and the occasional beaver or muskrat. Apparently the majority of coyotes in the region do not, in fact, rely on our pets (1%) or garbage (2%) for their diets.  (Scats often have more than one diet item; therefore, frequencies do not necessarily add up to 100 percent). As coyotes need to eat about 10% of their body weight each day, this preference for rodents can result in a diet of 3,000 rodents per year!  Further, coyotes serve as the primary predators on fawns. One surprising find was that coyotes control Canada Geese populations by eating the eggs. Geese parents can fight off raccoons but not coyotes. 97% of goose nest predation is carried out by coyotes. Geese and deer are often overabundant and difficult to manage. Thus, coyotes play a key role in naturally controlling rodent, deer and geese populations.

But, what about our pets? There are a few things to consider. It is natural canid (dog family) behavior to kill smaller canids. This is about instinct and survival. Given the opportunity, wolves will kill coyotes, coyotes will kill fox, and so on. This is less about getting a meal, but instead about eliminating competition. So, you want to keep an eye on your small dogs. Coyotes also may kill domestic cats for food or again to eliminate competition, but Gehrt’s study reveals that cats make up a very small part of their diet. Also, other predators eat cats, including Great Horned Owls. If coyotes live nearby, do not let pets run loose, especially domestic cats. When hiking in preserves, keep dogs on leashes.

Attendees enjoyed viewing the mounted coyotes, pelts and information provided by the Wildlife Discovery Center and the Lake County Forest Preserves.
Attendees enjoyed viewing the mounted coyotes, pelts and information provided by the Wildlife Discovery Center and the Lake County Forest Preserves.

In general, coyotes will avoid humans. Considering how many live around us and how few incidents we actually have with coyotes, it is clear they are staying out of our way. But, there are many ways we can minimize the possibility of conflicts with coyotes.  Most important is not to feed them. Many people unintentionally feed coyotes by leaving pet food or garbage out at night or by having large bird feeders. Coyotes are generally not interested in bird food, but bird feeders often attract rodents, especially squirrels, which then attract coyotes. Although coyotes seem to have a natural inclination to avoid human-related food, this can change when prey populations are low, or if the coyotes are young and haven’t yet learned to hunt effectively. If you encounter one or more coyotes on a trail, do not run away. It is part of canid (dog family) instinct to chase something that flees. That is how they chase down prey. Instead, you should make a lot of noise, as well as throw something at them.“Coyotes in the Chicago area are successful in spite of us, not because of us,” Gehrt contends. “They eat their own food, not ours.  They hunt as if we weren’t even here. They do their best to avoid us.”


coyote mount
A close up of the Wildlife Discovery Center’s mounted coyote.


Conflicts with coyotes can be avoided by taking simple precautions or by altering behaviors to avoid confrontation:

1. Do not feed the coyotes.

2. Do not let pets run loose.

3. Do not run from a coyote.

4. Repellents or fencing may help.

5. Report aggressive, fearless coyotes immediately.

To learn more about the Cook County Coyote Project, visit

The Hidden World of Wolves and Coyotes

Did you know that coyotes live in almost every green space of any size in the Chicago metropolitan area? Did you know that their cousins, the wolves, are also thriving across the state line in Wisconsin? Explore the hidden world of these fascinating predators and what their presence in our region means for people. Join us for an intimate look at these animals.

The Hidden Word of Wolves and Coyotes 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Greenbelt Cultural Center

Adrian Wydeven and Stan Gehrt, two of the country’s leading experts, will lead this discussion. Wydeven studies wolves for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Gehrt is the leading researcher of urban coyotes in the Chicago region. This program is presented in partnership with Conserve Lake County, Lake Forest Open Lands, Wildlife Discovery Center and the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

Tickets are $15 ($10 for members of Friends of Ryerson Woods, Conserve Lake County, Lake Forest Open Lands or Wild Ones). Register here.


FREE EVENT: What Will Food Taste Like in the Future?

Meet Josh Schonwald , a Chicago-based journalist and author of The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food and listen to his book discussion on how people, trends and technologies are transforming the world of food. Chicago Tribune writer Bill Daley promises that this book is a fun read and writes, “Schonwald has the talent to explain serious, complicated issues in ways the average reader will understand. He does it in an entertaining, often irreverent way that keeps you turning the pages.”

Thursday, September 27
7:00 to 8:30 p.m.
Friends of Ryerson Woods — Brushwood 
21850 N. Riverwoods Road
Deerfield, IL 60015

Register for this FREE event by calling 847.968.3321.

This program is presented in partnership with the Lake Forest Book Store and Liberty Prairie Foundation. Books will be available for purchase at the event.