My Birds of the Windy
by Beverly McClellan
of the Windy City dispels any remaining notion that
Chicago, though bustling with people and towering with buildings,
cannot be a haven for an exciting variety of birds. I know
because I actually see these birds in my tiny backyard
a 14-by 22-foot patch of plants, trees, and flowers just
south of the Loop. I have not seen the tanagers from the
Amazon and snowy owls from the Arctic that the book describes,
but they do visit other nearby areas, like Montrose Point
and Lincoln Park.
of the Windy City, a new booklet published by the Chicago
Department of Environment and Chicago Park District, in
collaboration with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and
the National Audubon Society, illustrates the many resources
Chicago has to offer migratory birds and year-round residents,
from its long Lake Michigan shoreline to its little corner
sitting in your downtown office at dusk and hearing the
"kiiirr" of a bird you know is not the typical
downtown pigeon. This happened to me about a year ago when
I looked out and saw a stately peregrine falcon perched
on the southeast corner of the Dirksen federal building.
I was never so glad to be working late.
birds behavior connects us with the mystery and power
of the natural world, right here in the city," writes
author Judy Pollock, projects coordinator for Audubon of
the Chicago Region. I agree and find that it also can connect
us with each other. In my neighborhood, I have made several
friends out of our shared interest in birds. During migration
seasons, our phones ring with quick quips of "towhee"
or "Nashville warbler," igniting a frenzy of getting
to the window with binoculars and bird book. One of my most
memorable sightings is a male American kestrel, with its
bold blue-gray and rust markings and black sideburns. On
a winter day last year, I heard him first and knew he was
not a typical backyard bird. I spotted him perched on the
chimney pipe on my neighbors roof, warning off any
annoying birds with his high-pitched call. He made so much
noise, he clearly had no intention of hunting, all stealth
thrown to the wind. He wanted his peace while he warmed
up on the steamy heat coming up out of the fireplace.
tried to share this experience several months later with
a "nonbirding" friend after visiting the "Birds
of Prey" exhibit at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
I did not think she believed a falcon would actually show
up in my city yard. However, just as she was leaving, I
heard that unmistakable call and there he was, swooping
over the townhouse right before her eyes. "Cool,"
she said. I was vindicated. Of course, other neighbors walking
by wanted to know what we were craning to look at, and they
too were delighted to see him flying over their city sidewalks
of the Windy City encourages us not only to enjoy the
birds of Chicago, but also to play a role in keeping them
around. For example, we can plant a variety of native flowers
and grasses that attract birds. My columbine was the main
attraction for a ruby-throated hummingbird passing through
one cold fall day. I could hardly believe I had a hummingbird
in my Chicago backyard. The book also suggests allowing
dead stalks with seeds to stand through winter. I remember
just last fall watching the goldfinches doing acrobatics
on my black-eyed Susans to get at the tasty black seeds.
birds are so engaging that even the city and federal governments
are getting in on the action. For example, last year, Chicago
residents elected the peregrine falcon as the first-ever
official city bird (CW, Winter 00, p.31). In addition,
Mayor Richard M. Daley and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Director
Jamie Rappaport Clark signed the Urban Treaty for Migratory
Birds in March 2000. According to Birds of the Windy City,
the treaty provides for new policies, programs, and habitats
migratory birds, thanks to the cooperation of many local
conservation groups and organizations. Indeed, the treaty
made Birds of the Windy City possible and will make it available
to the public for free.
of my favorite aspects about Birds of the Windy City
is its challenge to "venture out into the wilds of
Chicago." The booklet provides three challenges and
bird checklists. One challenge asks how many year-round
resident birds the reader can find on a walk through neighborhood
streets and parks. Another asks how many local nesting birds
(such as a great blue heron or indigo bunting) the reader
can find in one summer. The third challenge requires the
reader to visit spots on the map provided (a nice, compact
resource) to find spring and fall migrants. I have taken
on this challenge and, after visiting the Paul Douglas Nature
Sanctuary at Wooded Island just south of the Museum of
and Industry along the lakefront, I checked off five birds,
including a mustard-colored yellow warbler a first
time sighting for me. Only five more to go and at least
25 more birding spots left to discover!
these challenges do not get your bird juices flowing, the
section on Chicagos Year in Birds will. This nifty
calendar provides nuggets of information on what birds and
bird behavior to look for and where during
each month of the year. For example, in June begin to watch
for nesting and young to be born. In August, look for the
masses of swallows that swarm Montrose Point.
of the Windy City also provides a list of local bird
clubs, conservation organizations, print resources, Web
sites, and listservs. Listservs have provided me with delightful
accounts of others bird experiences and let me know
what birds to look for as listserv members south of me report
sightings during spring migration (or north of me during
obtain a free copy of Birds of the Windy City, call the
Nature Chicago hotline at (312) 744-1821 or write to Nature
Chicago, Chicago Department of Environment, 30 North LaSalle,
25th floor, Chicago, IL 60602.
here to download the PDF version (1,498K).