Seven young seagulls return to the wild after rehab in DuPage County
Several young seagulls emerge from open crates along the edge of a lake in a forest preserve near Itasca.
But instead of immediately taking flight, they stop and stand by the water.
Their hesitation is understandable. After all, they've had a traumatic start in life.
The birds were among about two dozen injured baby seagulls saved in June from a Chicago street after they apparently were attacked by adult birds.
"When these guys were rescued, they actually came to my house that night," said Alicia Biewer, a wildlife keeper for Willowbrook Wildlife Center, who then brought the injured birds to the Glen Ellyn facility.
"They were in such poor condition, I actually didn't think a lot of them were going to make it overnight," Biewer said. "Now to see them released is pretty exciting."
The seagulls were rescued by the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, a group committed to the protection of migratory birds through rescue, advocacy and outreach.
On June 17, the organization got a call through its hotline about a large group of dead and dying birds on the 700 block of South Jefferson Street in the South Loop.
"We got somebody over there only to realize that what was on the ground were more than 70 dead and injured young gulls," said Annette Prince, the group's director.
Prince said some of the birds were tiny enough to fit in the palm of a hand. Others were the size of a small football.
At least 40 of the seagulls were dead -- killed by falling off a building, being run over by cars or dehydration.
Prince said it was a "distressing" and "sobering" sight.
"We didn't understand why we would see such a huge number of these birds on the ground," she said.
Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visited the scene and concluded the young birds had been pushed off a rooftop by adult seagulls.
Prince said gulls like to nest on the flat roofs of buildings. Those that were attacked were part of a colony on a three-story storage facility.
"It seemed it was parents attacking or throwing off birds that were not their own," Prince said.
It's unclear what caused the adult birds to become aggressive, but temperatures were sweltering that weekend and there were a number of birds on the rooftop.
"It was just a very bad situation," Prince said.
Because the birds were so young, they couldn't fly.
Still, volunteers managed to find and rescue about 25 gulls that ended up at Willowbrook Wildlife Center, which is owned by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
"The majority of them that came in were just extremely dehydrated," Biewer said. "It was a really hot weekend when they fell off the rooftop, and they were on the ground for quite a while."
Biewer said two birds needed to be treated for leg fractures. A couple of others had be euthanized because their injuries were too severe.
By this week, 15 birds had recovered and been released in forest preserves throughout DuPage.
Prince said she's pleased the birds were able to get a second chance.
"I hope they do well," she said. "They're very fascinating animals that occupy a big part of the Chicago lakefront areas."
On Wednesday, seven more gulls were released in Songbird Slough Forest Preserve. Despite their initial hesitation, all the birds were soaring in circles around the large lake minutes after being set free.
"It feels good," Biewer said as she watched the birds in flight. "This is the best part of the job."