This year for me, and lots of my gardening friends, backyard birding at any level is a cheap form of entertainment that is lots of fun, especially since doing it can involve creating an urban landscape or garden that naturally attracts them.
Truth be told, I have spent the entire 2013-growing season trying to encourage more birds (and pollinators) to my front and backyard spaces. It is a topic I return to a bunch, and now here I go again.
Last spring I intentionally broadcast wildflower seeds to establish a so-called urban meadow in a 4' X 8' raised bed. It was a semi-successful gardening experiment that this year I plan to modify.
In addition to a range of bird seed-producing plants, in it was a protected water source (bird bath), which was tucked among the tall and small Illinois wild flowers, and positioned there to provide shelter for local birds and beneficial insects.
Throughout the warm season's early mornings, and as the sun set, I would often spy a few determined gold finches feeding on the flowers, including the "grove" of five-foot-tall sunflowers. These they ate from in late summer, while upside down, always flitting away when I opened the back door to get a closer look.
Based on a "bird feeding 101" primer I discovered, I also added more bird-attracting shrubs and bushes along my manmade bird border (a chain link and tall cedar fence on my south and north property lines). The berry and flower producing plants did provide our neighborhood's birds with food, plus temporary refuge from the roaming outdoor cats.
Then and now, I am providing those birds who live or migrate through here with multiple feeding stations I have situated in different areas of the yard to generate more bird activity: e.g. besides having store-bought bird feeders, as I previously said, I did leave my tall native plants standing, as the snow birds count on eating their seeds. The New England Asters, which I have in three places in my yard, are a great source of food for hummingbirds.
BTW, no hummingbirds have shown up here yet in spite of my efforts. Next year I am going to address that, as well as the ongoing idea of attracting more butterflies and bees into my gardens with the addition of more job-specific native plants.
Still, now I am happily watching all the cardinals, chickadees, jays, nuthatches, grosbeaks and finches who have hung around in my backyard because they are able to "weather" Chicago's winters.
For any local birding enthusiasts who enjoy the natural beauty and song of local and visiting birds, steps away from Oak Park is Columbus Park, which features an out-of-the-way little bird sanctuary where local birders tend to hang, and make a pit stop in during high migration season.
Another great source I found says that the best bird seed by far to attract the widest variety of winter birds, though, is black-oil sunflower. Striped sunflower seed, with a harder, thicker shell, tends to discourage house blackbirds and sparrows, if that is your aim.
Hey...what a great segue to get back to the point of all this: as the cost of the gift-giving season rushed in, I found a frugal and crafty way to let my holiday gift-giving go literally (bird crazy) by making DIY (do-it-yourself) bird ornaments this year for me, my bird-loving mother and other friends who love feeding birds over the winter.
In my quest to do it, I found four easy-to-make methods, going with the recipe that called for clear gelatin as a way to congeal the flour, birdseed and water mixture.
Coconut oil, suet or peanut butter can also be used, and if I was doing this with my school-age nephews, or neighborhood kids, I would go with the peanut butter version to avoid working with hot water or oil.