Master Naturalist’s Corner – Backyard Birding

Posted 4/30/20

Here are some tips to help get you started on your journey to backyard birdwatching.

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Master Naturalist’s Corner – Backyard Birding


Despite a few snow showers here and there, spring has sprung in Illinois! Even though we are all at home for the time being, there are still bountiful signs of spring in our own backyards, neighborhoods, and in the skies above. Here are some tips to help get you started on your journey to backyard birdwatching.

What do I need to start? Don’t worry, you will not have to buy out the whole store to enjoy the past time of bird watching. You will need to have just a few basics, most of which you might already have on hand.

Habitat: All living things have habitat needs such as water, shelter, food, and space. You can easily provide a bowl of water or a bird bath if you do not have a river or creek nearby. Shelter can be provided by shrubs, trees, grasses, birdhouses and house eaves. Food can be the natural sources of berries, seeds and insects, or you can provide food by using bird feeders. Space can be found anywhere such as backyards, neighborhoods, local parks or natural areas, and the blue skies above.

How do I find the birds? You don’t have to plan expensive trips across the world to enjoy bird watching.  Providing the basic needs for our feathered friends including water and the appropriate bird feeders will have them flocking to your backyard in no time. Follow the tips below to attract hummingbirds, orioles and more.

Hummingbirds - Hummingbirds seek out nectar from flowers. You can plant a native garden with flowers to attract hummingbirds, or you can set out feeders with a nectar solution you can make right at home (4 parts of hot water to 1 part of sugar-cool and fill feeders-NO RED DYE. Clean and change regularly).

Baltimore Orioles - Baltimore orioles are fruit loving birds and will dine on sliced oranges or even grape jelly put out in containers or hanging from branches. You can also purchase feeders specifically made for orioles with places to hang oranges and place a bowl of jelly.

Other Songbirds - The below list indicates what types of feed will attract specific birds to your backyard:

Finches: niger seed

Eastern Bluebirds: mealworms

Cardinals: black oil sunflower seed

Chickadees, juncos, finches, sparrows and more: wild bird seed mixes

Nuthatches and woodpeckers: Suet cakes of nuts, seeds, fruit, and protein

Preparing for Birdwatching: Although you can certainly enjoy birdwatching without them, I highly suggest buying a pair of binoculars (start with 8x to 10x) which will help you to see details of the birds visiting your yard. It is also helpful to have an identification field guide to help explore the various species of birds in your area. There are a plethora of field guides available for all levels of bird watchers, just be sure to purchase one that makes sense for our area of the country.

Online websites such as Cornell University Lab of Ornithology ( and the National Audubon ( are excellent platforms to discover habitat, migration, nesting, calls, and song information about bird species from all over the world.

Remember to practice patience when bird watching. Birds will come and go at different times of the day and at different times of the year. It’s helpful to start a birding journal noting the species, date and weather when it was observed. Most of all, remember to have fun! Birdwatching can be a very relaxing past time and a way to connect with nature from inside your own home.

Do you have questions related to nature and Illinois’ natural resources? You can e-mail with “Nature Question” in the subject line, or call the University of Illinois County Extension Main Office at (815) 224-0889. Please note that due to the COVID-19 epidemic, offices are closed until further notice.