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Good Steward Post

Our 5 Favorite Birds Before We Started Gardening for Wildlife

Our home landscape has been through dramatic changes since we first bought our house a few years ago. Not only have I installed a pond, I have also brought in native plants and begun stewarding our yard for the wildlife. The first season we bought our house I maintained the landscape much like any homeowner would, I mowed the lawn, I trimmed the shrubs, and any sapling I saw that I didn't want I either cut back or tried to pull it out. The main differences in my management is I didn't use any sort of Herbicides, Pesticides, or Fertilizers (HPFs); I would leave dead smaller branches on trees I thought a bird would use; I would mow at the highest setting every 2 to 4 weeks; and I left native plants many would refer to as “weeds” (violets, grape, pokeweed, as well as others).


As expected, we saw birds that pretty much any homeowner in the greater Chicagoland area would see. As such, I believe the following list of favorite birds might be considered more “common” birds to see in one's yard. The reason I am selecting these is not only for their beauty, but because I have also noticed a large uptick in their presence since we started modifying our yard.


These 5 birds are without a doubt my favorite "common” Chicagoland birds in our yard. Cardinals, goldfinches, robins, catbirds, and woodpeckers.


1: Robins were the most obvious choice as a favorite as they are extremely common. What I find particularly fascinating about them is their gait. As I have continued to watch them walk-run through our “too-tall” grass, I am convinced the creators of the Jurassic Park movies used robins as a model for the raptors. Their singing is also one of my favorites - except at 4 o'clock in the morning!!!


2: Being a California native, cardinals easily made the second spot on this list. These gorgeous birds are a joy to see anytime our local couple visits. The bright red of the male is a nice contrast against the common greens and browns. Without a doubt, the song of the Illinois state bird, is music to my ears. I intentionally left pokeweed to grow as both a food source with its berries, but also as a perch.


3: Perhaps the most common yellow bird in our area, goldfinches are incredibly fun to watch! Similar to cardinals, the bright yellow of the male (especially in Spring) is gorgeous! Some catnip plants are in our yard and the goldfinches will absolutely devour any seeds they find. Goldfinches are one of the few terrestrial bird species that will raise their young on seed. Any plant that produces seeds for these birds is a bonus!


4: When I lived in Southern California I don’t recall seeing woodpeckers too often, except when we would hike in local parks and preserves. Here in Illinois they seem to frequent any subdivision with mature trees. I am always fond of watching them hop up the trunks and branches of our locust trees. One year a pesky fellow made 3 holes in our aging cedar siding - to upgrade to newer vinyl siding was an easy choice! In our yard we are fortunate to have four different species of woodpeckers: downy, hairy, red-belly, and the northern flicker.


5: The last bird on this list is the peculiar catbird. I admit I had no idea what this bird was until my wife searched for “bird that makes cat sound” on the internet. I often see their gray plumage in the branches. Every since my wife told me what their name is I am excited every time I hear one.


So why these 5 birds? As I said, not only are these birds more “common” in the Chicago area, I have seen a noticeable uptick in their presence since we have added our pond and introduced native plants. For anyone who also shares appreciation of Robins, Cardinals, Goldfinches, Woodpeckers, and Catbirds I encourage you to embrace some of the 4 practices I mentioned above: avoid the unnecessary use of HPFs, leave some dead smaller branches on trees, mow your grass infrequently at the highest setting, and encourage the growth of native plants.


If you would like to know how you can garden for the wildlife, especially the birds, in your yard contact us for a consultation!


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