I stare out the window a lot these days. Particularly on gray, rainy days of late. The warmth of the sun seems scarce this spring. The days when it shows up are glorious, but, seriously, we need more of them.
Even so, I'm thankful for my room with a view. Our bedroom windows look out on our city backyard, and we are lucky to have habitat that is visited by birds and critters alike. This is our second spring in this house, and I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of spring migrants. Last week saw the arrival of Chipping Sparrows, and a small flock of White-throated Sparrows. We even had a Wild Turkey visit! The White-throated Sparrows are still here, flitting through the habitat, and singing in the rain. This is the beginning...
Last year our biggest migrant day was May 10. I watched in amazement, through the window, as migrant after migrant, and many feathered residents, arrived. I counted a total of about 20 different species, in multiples, throughout the day, and in the few days after as well. Birds I had seen in the wild before, but not in our city backyard.
There were Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, Clay-colored Sparrows, Song Sparrows, a Gray Catbird, Baltimore Orioles, Downey Woodpeckers, Hermit Thrushes, a Common Yellow-throated Warbler, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, along with some of the usual summer residents: American Robins, Common Grackles, Starlings, Cardinals, House Sparrows, Gold Finches, House Finches, and Mourning Doves. Crows, too. I was so overwhelmed, I actually cried. It was incredible.
We've added many native plants to the garden since then, several native bushes, a brush pile, and a leaf compost bin. And a couple more birdbaths. I'm hoping these added elements will entice more migrants to visit our avian Airbnb. At the least, I'm hoping visitors from last spring will visit. And bring friends.
The prospect of Spring Migration has been a major balm for me in these Covid-19 times. I try to get out a couple times a week for a walk in local parks and nature trails, but being able to enjoy the comings and goings of wildlife in our backyard habitat has been a welcome distraction as much as a passion.
I'm looking forward to working on the habitat in the coming months, too. We started some plants from seed, a first for us. We shall see how that turns out. I'm sure we will do some curbside pickup from local garden centers as well. Evenings in the backyard surrounded by flowers and birdsong will be a welcome retreat from the stress of current times.
I'm aware that bird watching is not everyone's cup of tea, but in times like these, the melody of bird song, and the beauty of nature might help to fill your cup. No matter where you live, there's bound to be some wildlife in view. Just look out the window.
Bird Watching in Your Neighborhood Park and in Your Own Backyard
I'm a bird nerd. Not, by any means, an expert, but I love birds. I find them beautiful, awe-inspiring, incredible creatures. I love bird watching, and I hike often in an effort to do so. However, it's not necessary to go out into the wilderness to witness birds in their habitat.
Spring is a great time to bird watch in Wisconsin. There are many bird species (about 250) that make Wisconsin their year-round home, but during spring and fall migration, upwards of 400 birds have been recorded throughout the state. Many of these birds pass right over our homes while we sleep at night, en route to their summer nesting destinations. In fact, if you sit outside, late, on a quiet evening, you can actually hear the call of migrating birds overhead. They'll be too high up to see them with the naked eye, but you can hear them. There are even bird migration forecast maps that can tell you when birds are migrating, where they will be heading, and what types of birds are migrating. Check out: birdcast.info
Of course, Wisconsin State Parks and trails are a great place to spot these birds, but don't count out your local neighborhood parks or your own backyard. During migration, birds fly thousands of miles from places like South America, to the United States and Canada, where they will breed, nest, and raise their young over the spring and summer. En route to these destinations, you can find them feeding and resting in green spaces all across the state of Wisconsin. If there's a park or yard with trees, bushes, a bird bath, and a pond or wetland of some sort, they will find it. Bird feeders can help, too.
Just recently I took a walk around the pond at my neighborhood park, McCarty Park, in West Allis, and was gifted with sightings of a Golden Crowned Kinglet, an Eastern Phoebe, and a Hermit Thrush.
I also saw many of our more common resident birds such as American Robins, Goldfinches, Cardinals, House Sparrows, Mallard Ducks, and Canadian Geese.
Inviting the Birds to Your Own Backyard
Chances are, no matter where you live, you see birds. But if you want to attract more of them to your yard, you can do some simple things to make your yard more hospitable. Got trees or shrubs already? Great! Add a simple bird bath. Resident birds will enjoy the water source, as will the migrating birds passing through. You can create a simple bird bath using a medium sized flower pot, putting the bottom flower pot tray in the top of the pot. Fill it with water, and maybe a big rock for birds to land on, and you have a welcoming spot for thirsty birds. A simple bird bath like this can fit nicely on a small patio or balcony, too.
Birds need shelter. Trees and bushes are great. But another simple way to provide shelter for birds is to make a brush pile using fallen branches and sticks. The birds will appreciate being able to find shelter under the sticks, sitting on top of the brush in the sun, and scrounging for bugs to eat beneath the brush as well.
You can place your brush pile off to a corner of the yard, or next to a fence or garden border. We have ours next to a leaf compost bin, in a spot where we can easily see it from the window so we can watch the birds come and go. Brush piles will provide shelter for birds in all seasons. They are great places to hide out from predators, a winter storm, or a heavy rain. Keep an eye on your brush pile. You'll be amazed at the wildlife visiting.
Feed the birds with native plants, shrubs and trees. We have a variety of native plants in our garden. One of the most popular, and easily maintained native plants is Coneflower. This plant returns year after year, and its pollen feeds butterflies and bees, and its seeds, later in the season, will feed many birds. Leave them in the garden over the winter as well, and birds will find them a great source of food during a time of year when natural food is more scarce. For other native plants ideas, visit the National Wildlife Federation website Native Plantfinder.
You can supplement the natural foods available in your yard and garden with bird feeders.
In addition to native plants, we also put out feeders with sunflower
seeds. A wide variety of birds will eat sunflower seeds. You can also plant some of the sunflower seeds in pots, or in the garden. Their blooms will provide pollen for bees and butterflies, and the seeds, again, will feed the birds in the fall through winter.
Bird watching is such a rewarding activity. It helps me to appreciate, and care about, the wildlife that surrounds me. Birds are fascinating, beautiful creatures. I love that I can watch them, and hear their song, whether in my city backyard, neighborhood park, or in wider, wilder environments. I'm humbled, and calmed, by their presence. Hopeful, too.
For more information on backyard birding, visit the Audubon website.
For information on preserving birds and other wildlife, visit the National Wildlife Federation website.
It's been a strange year, already. To say the least. All those new year's hopes and dreams suspended or ravaged by Covid-19. I started the new year by finding out the shop I worked at for 15 years was closing. We spent January and February selling out the merchandise, and clearing the shop. It was hectic and sad, to say the least. When it was over I figured I would take a little time to determine how next to proceed. My hope was to build on THE PARK NEXT DOOR, and add content related to gardening for wildlife.
Like most Wisconsinites, I was tired of winter and looking forward to spring. So I reached out to one of my favorite local garden centers, Poplar Creek Gardens, to see about visiting their green house for a sneak peek. Kae and Robb invited me to spend an afternoon working in the greenhouse planting, and photographing the process. Hands in the dirt, putting tiny little flower plugs in pots. The smell of dirt, divine. Mind you, this is just a snippet of the work being done to have plants ready for everyone's gardens this season.
Poplar Creek has added two large greenhouses to their center this year. Filled with hanging baskets, flats, shrubs, annuals, and perennials. One of the things I love about Poplar Creek is that they use locally grown suppliers, and their plants are not treated with neonicotinoids, an insecticide which has been shown to be harmful to bees. Kae and Robb are extremely knowledgeable about the plants they grow and sell, and host workshops for gardeners as well. Their hanging baskets are spectacular, by the way.
Given the Covid-19 safety precautions, Poplar Creek will be offering curbside pickup and (limited) delivery options beginning this month. Visit their website, or their Facebook page for further details. If we're going to be staying home, we can at least take advantage of this time to get a head start on our gardens and containers, and enjoy the season to come.
Last summer was the first in our house, and we added several pollinator-friendly plants to our garden. I purchased many of these at Poplar Creek, and I look forward to seeing them spring up in the garden this year.
A traveler, singer, novice photographer, humane gardener, and nature lover.