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Is birdwatching in your future? If you are not sure and are reluctant to invest in binoculars to try it out, just borrow an Evanston Public Library birdwatching kit.

The contents of an Evanston Public Library birdwatching kit.

Packed inside a comfortable backpack is everything you need to get started: two pairs of lightweight, easy to adjust Celestron binoculars; directions on how to use binoculars and birds and birding resources in both Spanish and English; a field guide to birds of Illinois with outstanding photographs; a folding pocket guide to birds of Illinois; and special cloths and pens for cleaning the binoculars. (The two pairs of binoculars mean you don’t have to explore birding as a solitary pursuit.)

The birdwatching kit is Evanston’s first example of the ”Library of Things,” a new trend in library loans. More items for the Library of Things are in the works.

Winter is a great time to check out these kits and explore birding. Many bird species, including cardinals; blue jays; chickadees; nuthatches; juncos; robins; downy-, hairy- and red-bellied woodpeckers; mourning doves and house sparrows, and even an occasional hawk or owl frequent backyards and public natural areas and parks in winter. 

This winter, common redpolls are everywhere, including in the alder trees along Northwestern University’s south parking lot.

Common Redpoll. (Creative Commons license)

Since March 2020, according to Tim Joyce at the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Glenview, there has been a 30% increase in people involved in enjoying birds, many of whom are new to birding.

Joyce shared some of the reasons new birdwatchers gave for their passion for birding: “I didn’t realize how relaxing birding is – it’s a distraction from the turmoil of the issues in the world” and  “Living in an urban area, I’ve found birding to be an opportunity to connect with nature.” 

Cape May warbler. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

Joyce further explained: “Birds like the Cape May warbler show us the interconnectedness of the world. Watching a bird who has been wintering in the tropics, who has flown the distance to our Chicago area and then will travel even father to the boreal forest to breed, and having to stop to refuel along the way, is very humbling. This three-tenths of an ounce bird is fragile but able to survive such a challenging journey.”

A novice birder need make no investment except time. You can borrow a birdwatching kit and try out the binoculars from the warmth of home, practicing on squirrels or rabbits or trees or any features of your landscape that you can see from a window. Or you can connect with nature at city-owned sites along the North Shore Channel at the Ecology Center and Harbert-Payne Park, or the Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary at the lake. Perkins Woods – Evanston’s only Cook County Forest Preserve, at Ewing Avenue and Grant Street – is a year-round home to woodpeckers; typically, you hear them before spotting them in your binoculars.

You can also learn about birds on local spring migration walks with Evanston North Shore Bird Club, Go Green Wilmette and Canal Shores Golf Course. Beginning birders often ask if they need binoculars for these walks. The answer is yes; another perfect occasion for borrowing  Evanston Public Library birdwatching kits. All walks invite beginners, with experienced birders helping out. A list of planned bird walks will be posted on the Evanston North Shore Bird Club website, and described in a forthcoming article.

To borrow a birdwatching kit, go to the Evanston Public Library website. Click on “Find,” Type in “bird kit” and “Evanston Public Library Bird Watching Kit” will come up, allowing you to place a hold. An EPL library card is required.

Pick up your kit at either the Main Library or Crown Center branch.  And enjoy!

Libby Hill

Libby Hill is the author of "The Chicago River: a Natural and Unnatural History. She has been writing about birds and trees and Evanston's natural history for the Roundtable since 2004.

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