Bird Watching in Winter 

By Kristin Boza 

Bird afficionados tend to, pardon the pun, flock together. Like many interests in Beverly/Morgan Park, there’s a Facebook group for that! The 19th Ward Birding group is a great way for local bird lovers to share their knowledge and bond over the interesting birds that can be seen right in our own backyards. 

Carolyn Leeb is a member of the 19th Ward Birding group and believes that birdwatching is a way to share our humanity outside of politics or other divisions that are often debated in neighborhood Facebook groups. We all share a love for the natural world, and a love of birds,” she said. 

No one should fear making a post in the birding group, as no question is deemed too silly. “Once, someone very apologetically said ‘I’m just a beginner, and I reminded her that we all were at one point,” Leeb said. “It’s an easy hobby to share. You can throw a lot of money at it and take a trip to Costa Rica to observe the birds, or just grab a thistle sleeve sock feeder from Target for $3. We’re all about embracing the hobby and it’s wonderful to bring so many people of different experience levels and physical levels together.”   

One big topic for discussion is how people can care for the environment to ensure birds can thrive. Leeb noted that bald eagles were never seen at Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Ill. when she was a child; now the park hosts annual events during the bald eagle mating season in January and February for visitors to observe the beautiful birds in their wild habitat. She believes that the elimination of the chemical DDT, used to kill mosquitoes, allowed the birds and other natural things to thrive once more.  

“The eagle to me is a symbol of what happens when we start to take care of our world,” Leeb said. “To be able to watch that recovery happen in the course of my lifetime is amazing.” 

The Dan Ryan Woods is a great place to observe a variety of bird species, as well as the grounds of St. Xavier University, where water fowl stop before continuing up north to their breeding grounds. “The nice thing about the Facebook group is somebody will see a merganser [a type of duck] passing through the lake at St. Xavier and will post a picture — then others will head over to check out the area,” Leeb said.  

But, one does not need to tramp through the woods or lakeside areas to get a glimpse of some beautiful birds. Any backyard can become a haven for birds, especially during the winter months.  

Barney and Eileen Noland are 19th Ward Birding neighbors who both enjoy the hobby of caring for wild birds year-round. The couple has three bird feeders in their yard mounted on metal poles. Two of the feeders are constructed of cedar with walls and a roof while the third is a flat metal platform. Their yard attracts many different types of birds.  

The couple also ensures that native plants that will nurture the birds are abundant in their yard. “We have purple coneflower and sunflowers, as well as our two deciduous trees, two conifer trees, and arborvitae,” Eileen said. “All of these are places of respite for all birds. To attract hummingbirds, we have bee balm, phlox, obedient plant, annual zinnias, and Mexican sunflowers.” 

The Nolands see an incredible volume and variety of birds in their yard each year, including blue jays, cardinals, sparrows, downy woodpeckers, red bellied nuthatches, white breasted nuthatches, house finches, mourning doves, and red bellied woodpeckers. “Barney mixes peanuts and sunflower kernels and places those in the bird feeder, and we also use crushed corn, different types of suet and homemade hummingbird food in the summer,” Eileen said. “In the spring, we put out cut oranges and grape jelly for the Baltimore orioles and woodpeckers, who like these treats.” 

Supplying the birds with healthy food is especially essential in the winter, so the Nolands keep their feeders and bird bath filled each day. “We feel that the consistency of having food in the feeders is really important for the birds to get through the winder,” Eileen said. “There’s always so much to learn about caring for birds in your back yard, and the 19th Ward Birding Facebook page is a great place to learn!”