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Bird houses erected near Litchfield as part of “Give Birds the Right of Way” program

An initiative to “Give BIRDS the ROW” is expanding throughout the state. The program originated with the installation of houses for prothonotary warblers along the Lost Bridge Trail near the IDOT headquarters in Springfield. With the goal of restoring diverse bird species on IDOT rights of way, also called ROW. In its latest effort, a group of IDOT employees coordinated with District 6 to install bluebird houses provided by the McHenry County Audubon Society at the Coalfield Rest Areas on Interstate 55 near Litchfield in Montgomery County.

Posted in short-grass, open-yard habitat, the houses not only provide a resting spot for bluebirds but also attract other native bird species.

“In total, four bluebird houses have been posted so far: two at the northbound Coalfield Rest Area and two at the southbound Coalfield Rest Area,” said IDOT Photogrammetrist Jarod Hitchings. “The in­stallation of more houses are planned for prothonotary warblers along the Spoon River and for bluebird houses at rest areas and other appropriate short-grass, park-like habitats maintained by IDOT.”

Hitchings is joined in the effort by fellow Photogrammetrist Brenda Anderson, both of the Bureau of Design and Envi­ronment, as well as District 6 Roadside Management Specialist Mike Staab and Junior Construction Inspection Tech Marcell Lare, Roadside Maintenance Manager Stephanie Dobbs, District 8 Acting Rest Area Manager Jacob Cuff and District 5 Roadside Manager Scott Hall. Design and Environment’s Bicycle and Pedestrian/ADA Policy Engineer Steve Letsky also donated handcrafted bird houses he built on his own.

“Operations and Design and Environ­ment have worked well together to pro­mote declining bird species,” Hitchings said. “Partnering with the district offices, we have truly made this a statewide effort to promote a healthy environment for our feathered friends. Birds are a sentinel species and are a signal that the natural landscape is healthy for all wildlife.”

The initiative continues to evolve.

“We hope to grow this program and install a variety of houses at different locations as the habitat and range indicates,” Dobbs said. “In the future, if interesting species find homes on our right of way, we would like to do a webcam or something similar to share it with employees and the public.”

Anyone interested in supporting this work is invited to reach out to Hitchings at jarod.hitchings@illinois.gov.

“We are hoping to encourage the nature community, educators and bird enthusi­asts to partner with IDOT in monitoring these boxes to discourage non-native species while documenting success­es in diversifying the species along IDOT-managed habitats,” Hitchings said.