Sunday, January 19, 2014

Yard birds

Typical view from our back porch.
A few years ago on a spring evening, I parked my car on our Chicago street and walked toward the front gate of our six-flat building. As I stepped on the sidewalk, I heard a tittering sound that I hadn't heard since standing in a Wisconsin prairie years before. A shadowy form burst from the ground and vaulted over the wrought-iron fence that frames our yard. It was an american woodcock, getting ready to spend the night in the very urban environs of the Uptown neighborhood.

Yard birding in an urban area is a very arbitrary and incredibly rewarding experience. Once, while I was parking on another congested North Side street, a Virginia rail ambled between cars and passersby. It was my lifer Virginia rail, and I was nowhere near a wetland.

I've kept a yard list at my last two Uptown addresses. Our previous home was situated on a North-South street: Kenmore Avenue. Neither home has had a yard any bigger than about 500 square feet. But the Kenmore building seemingly yielded more warbler species in the proper seasons--perhaps they followed the treetops of North-South Chicago streets as part of their migration. We tallied nearly 50 species in our five years at the location. Every year, almost to the day, we could count on a yellow-bellied sapsucker in a poplar that was clearly visible from our front window. It became a gratifying rite of April to see this bird.

For whatever reason, perhaps the East-West orientation, the yard list at our current home has taken longer to build. I decided that any bird seen or heard from the property would be counted as a yard bird. This opened up some great possibilities, including standing on our back porch and seeing birds from quite a long distance. That's resulted in peregrine falcon, black-crowned night-heron, great blue heron and some waterfowl. The total stands at 48, the last species a budgie on a frigid day--the bird likely an escape.

I still have a few target species--blue jay, common grackle, red-winged blackbird, fox sparrow, sandhill crane to name a few--but there's something fun about the low expectations and randomness of Uptown yard birding. Which will be the next new species? Probably not a Virginia rail.

Current list below:

American Woodcock
Canada Goose
House Sparrow
Rock Dove
American Robin
Northern Cardinal
Peregrine Falcon
American Kestrel
Chimney Swift
European Starling
White-throated Sparrow
House Finch
Mourning Dove
Ring-billed Gull
Black-crowned Night Heron
Dark-eyed Junco
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Chipping Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Common Yellowthroat
Swainson's Thrush
Great Blue Heron
Brown Creeper
Black-capped Chickadee
Gray Catbird
American Goldfinch
House Wren
Common Nighthawk
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Double-crested Cormorant
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Song Sparrow
Black-and-white Warbler
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Palm Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Eastern Phoebe
Cooper's Hawk
Hermit Thrush
Downy Woodpecker
American Crow
Budgerigar (likely escape)