Evanston can seem lacking in natural drama for those who are used to mountains and oceans. The county’s smallest forest preserve, an artificial waterway,
a fairly tame lake … where can a person craving natural drama go? The person who loves birds never has this problem.
Birds provide beauty and fascination throughout the seasons: a tiny kinglet raising its ruby crown, an oriole weaving a complex hanging nest, a flock of mergansers doing dramatic courtship displays.
Similarly, it is not necessary to work in rainforests or the boreal forest to save declining wildlife populations. Birds offer an opportunity to do important conservation work right in our backyards. Many birds of conservation concern such as red-headed woodpeckers, rusty blackbirds, veeries, brown thrashers, and blue-winged and Blackburnian warblers pass through our yards and parks each spring and fall. Here are some ways you can help them.
Two big threats kill as many as a billion birds a year: windows and cats.
Do you have a window that kills birds? The good news is that many attractive products have come on the market recently to treat problem windows. Take a look from the outside at the time of day when birds are hitting to see what’s tricking the birds into flying into your window. Maybe it’s the reflection of landscaping, trees or sky – or maybe they can see into your house to an indoor plant, or through a window in a facing wall to the outdoors. Once you understand the problem, consult these two websites for solutions: Chicago Bird Collision Monitors or American Bird Conservancy.
Want to help pass a bird-friendly design ordinance in Evanston that will save hundreds of birds a year? Connect with Bird Friendly Evanston through their Facebook page.
Cat owner? Keep your cat indoors, and do everything you can to control the cat population. “No-kill” shelters that turn unwanted cats over to outdoor colonies are in fact responsible for those cats killing many birds and other small animals – not a good solution, if you’re a bird. Some think that it is acceptable to leave cats outdoors because they are ‘just acting according to their natures.’ However, cats are a mid-sized predator – and a non-native one at that. We already have too many mid-sized predators on our landscape, because we don’t have larger predators like wolves and cougars any more. Finally, in nature, predator populations decrease when prey populations decline – that’s how these populations stay in balance. If you are feeding the predator (the cat), you are giving it an unfair advantage. It’s tough to change a cat’s habits – but it’s the right thing to do. In our very developed landscape, there is precious little habitat that is safe for birds.
If you own a home, birds of conservation concern are probably using your yard during migration. Here’s how to make a welcoming space:
Plant native trees and shrubs that leaf out and provide fruit during the migration season – April and May, and again in late August though early November. Stop by the Oaktober event at the Civic Center to pick up a free bird-friendly native shrub!
Plant native flowers with big seeds (like coneflowers) and nectar (like cardinal flower and turtlehead). More landscaping ideas specific to our area are here at gl.audubob.org/birds/planting-chicago-area-migratory-birds.
Don’t use insecticide, and use herbicide sparingly. Birds eat those insects you are poisoning. Treated seeds and residual effects also affect birds. Learn which are most dangerous at abcbirds.org/program/pesticides.
Urban lighting draws migratory birds off course. In fact, Chicago’s concentration of lighting combined with the big bird migration through the middle of the country means we live in the riskiest area for bird collisions in the nation.
You can save money and birds by reducing the amount of light your home is emitting. Some ideas: turn off lights at night; install covers over porch lights so they don’t shine upward, or use motion sensors; and extinguish upward-shining landscaping or vanity lights or set them on timers.
Your consumer choices can help birds too. Many of the migratory birds in our yards this month will spend winter in the tropics and summer in the boreal forest.
Believe it or not, much of the toilet paper sold in our stores is from centuries-old trees in the boreal forest. Buy recycled toilet paper – it’s getting harder to find, which is bad news for boreal-nesting birds. Look for the “100% Recycled” label on toilet paper, paper towels and boxed tissues, usually available at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Target (Ever Spring brand), and possibly other stores. For details, see The Issue with Tissue, a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council at nrdc.org.
Similarly, much of the coffee sold in our stores is grown in full sun, but delicious coffee can be grown under a canopy that provides excellent bird habitat. This helps birds in Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean, where many of our migrating birds spend the winter. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center certifies coffee that provides the best bird habitat; look for the Bird Friendly seal. Some locally available brands include The G.O.A.T. Coffee Catalyst Blend (a local business), at Valli Produce; Café Fair, at Mariano’s or Target; and Allegro Coffee Organic Early Bird, at Whole Foods. See Chicago Audubon’s shade-grown coffee list at chicagoaudubon.org.
Evanston is full of birds and friendly positive people who are making a difference for birds every day. Spend some time with people in the bird conservation community.
Community bird habitat stewardship is happening all the time in Evanston, and joining in is great for the soul as well as for the birds. Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary, Perkins Woods, Ladd Arboretum and Harbert Park all have volunteer groups actively restoring habitat. New people are always welcome to visit us at evanstonhabitat.org.
Support a bird conservation organization and get involved with their activities. The local Audubon chapter that covers Evanston is Chicago Audubon Society.
The Chicago Bird Collision Monitors not only pick up injured birds throughout the area, they monitor the buildings at Northwestern and are working with the University and the American Bird Conservancy to test problem windows at birdmonitors.net.
Facebook hosts many great birding groups and pages of many of the groups and projects mentioned above.
One of the last few pieces of remnant native forest in Evanston is threatened by development. Join the group Save Isabella Woods on Facebook.
Most importantly, get out and enjoy birds.
Birders are a welcoming group. Join a club like the Evanston North Shore Bird Club ensbc.org. Birders are early adopters of technology, so it’s not surprising that there are two great free apps to help you to learn about our birds. Merlin.allaboutbirds.org helps you to easily identify birds you find, and ebird.org helps you figure out where the birds are.
Enjoying birds can lift your spirits – and helping birds can lift them higher. There are many ways to help.
Ms. Pollock is a member of the Organizing Committee of Bird Friendly Evanston and President of the Chicago Audubon Society.