Seasonal Birding in Illinois Gardens

Time for a few gardening posts (yes, birding is an extension of gardening). This has been on my mind for a while now.  Given that we’re 16 degrees below normal temperature-wise and the steady rain has made the soil unworkable, I don’t want to be in the yard.  Writing about it is almost as good.  Sort of…

I wonder if the cold spell we’re under explains why the goldfinches are changing color and the snowbirds are now gone, but the hummingbirds, orioles, indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and other migratory birds are not here yet.  Bird brains? I think not.

Hummingbirds migrate individually, not in big flocks.  These loners have an internal clock, and tiny as they are, a few fat reserves which help to carry them between natural food sources as they migrate 2000 to nearly 3000 miles from southern Mexico and northern Panama into the (godforsaken) Midwest.  This year someone in West Dundee reported that they already saw one.  (mutters, “Braggart, overachiever!”).  I’m still waiting.  Maybe it’s cooler near the Lake (Michigan).

Suicide Prevention: On a normal year (which is Illinois EVER normal??) I deploy my “migratory bird suicide prevention” mechanisms (clings and screens ) on the large plate glass windows and sliding doors by the second week of April (when migration typically begins in earnest).  The reflection of the outside trees and landscape makes birds think that nature continues as pictured in the glass and they blithely smash into windows and doors… and die.  And of course, it’s never a bird that I really don’t like very much.  It’s usually one I love seeing as a person who enjoys birding.

For sliding doors, I use a combination of the screen doors to block one side and a piece of shiny curling ribbon taped to the glass on the side without the screen.  On the front bay window, I have clings proudly stating “USA!” in red, white, and blue stars since I couldn’t find anything else that didn’t look profoundly juvenile or way too seasonal.  The clings stick to the shady north window and the reason I don’t use them on the south side is that I don’t want them to melt or become gooey in the hot sun and then smear as I open and close the screen.  Both clings and curling ribbon interrupt the visual flow of outdoors reflected and tell birds, “Steer clear!”

And then there are the feeding changes for seasonal birding. 

Nectar feeders: To greet their arrival, I put out the oriole and hummingbird feeders with a room temperature sugar-water mixture (1 cup granulated sugar to 4 cups hot water for ease of dissolving).  I never use soap in those feeders since the residual taste causes rejection.  Before changing the food, I will use water and a few drops of bleach to kill the mold and mildew which would otherwise proliferate.  Rinse well and replace the food.

Bird eaters:  And the other change I make is to put whole peanuts (in the shell) in an open tray along with sunflower seed to give the blue jays something to eat without picking baby birds or eggs out of nests to eat.  It appeals to how they’re wired to eat, but fills them up without requiring baby birds to do it. 

Feeder positions:  Knowing that my back yard will attract birds that eat migratory birds as their food of choice, I position my feeders to prohibit a speedy flight path from tree to innocent little bird.  The Cooper’s Hawk must think I created a banquet just for him, but I will defend my little ones with my big arms flapping and a fully loaded super-soaker.  Crows?  Same deal.

I love seeing the migratory birds and want their stay in my yard to be as pleasant as possible.  If our growing season actually begins this year, there will be plenty of natural food for all my bird friends to enjoy so I can enjoy seeing all my bird friends!

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1)


Categories In the Garden, Inspiration | Tags: | Posted on May 4, 2017

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