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Bird- and insect-rich prairie threatened by airport expansion

Bell Bowl Prairie
Upland Sandpiper, an endangered species in Illinois, occurs at Bell Bowl Prairie in Rockford. Photo by Joshua Galicki

A planned expansion of the airport in Rockford, Illinois, would destroy one of the last remaining prairies in Illinois, the Bell Bowl Prairie. Construction is currently on hold because of the discovery this year of the federally endangered rusty patched bumblebee at the site. But the hold expires on Monday, November 1.

According to the website

“The project site contains approximately 20 acres of remnant gravel prairie known as Bell Bowl Prairie, which is a part of the ‘old growth’ of Illinois. This prairie has never been plowed and constitutes less than 0.01% of natural prairie lands left in the state of Illinois. It is known to host state endangered plant and animal species and has been designated an Illinois Natural Areas Inventory site due to its outstanding quality. The site also owes its continued existence to the direct action of George Fell, who founded The Nature Conservancy.”

In addition to the bumblebee, other species listed in Illinois occur at the prairie, including Loggerhead Shrike, Black-billed Cuckoo, Northern Harrier, Upland Sandpiper, large-flowered penstemon, and prairie false dandelion.


The site’s eBird profile lists 95 bird species, including warblers, sparrows, grosbeaks, shorebirds, and raptors.

Activists plan to have a rally in Rockford on Thursday and a March on Saturday. And on the website, they encourage several actions that any supporters of the prairie can take, even those of us who don’t live in Illinois.

These include contacting U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who oversees the Federal Aviation Administration. Minnesota residents are asked to contact Congresswoman Ilhan Omar “to require the USFWS Regional Office in Bloomington, Minnesota, to follow the law.”

Supporters of keeping the prairie intact want it to be “protected as a dedicated nature preserve in perpetuity.” And indeed, the city of Rockford passed a resolution this month to protect and conserve birds as part of the Bird City Illinois initiative. “Protecting birds means protecting bird habitat like Bell Bowl Prairie. This prairie is something to be proud of and care for, not destroy forever,” according to the Save Bell Bowl Prairie website.


It is a shame that the so-called Prairie State is even considering destroying this vital piece of prairie habitat. If you are able, please get involved to help protect it.


Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at [email protected].

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