Suburban bird enthusiasts are in for a treat this winter with more migratory birds, including some rarely seen here, flocking to backyard bird feeders due to a food shortage in the north.
Don't be surprised if pine siskins, red-breasted nuthatches, red crossbills, white wing crossbills and evening grosbeaks stop by for a snack, says Tim Joyce, birdscaper/manager of Wildbirds Unlimited in Glenview and Arlington Heights.
Joyce said there is a greater amount of birds normally never seen in Illinois coming through this migration season due to the drought.
"It's definitely atypical," Joyce said. "It's kind of jarring how different this year is from last year (when) very few of these migratory, seed-eating birds were around. It's off the charts this year. We're getting tons of reports from our customers of some pretty cool activity in their yard."
Joyce, 39, said he has been watching birds since he was 5 years old.
"I have always wanted to see an evening grosbeak in my backyard at my bird feeder," he said.
Two weeks ago, Joyce said he was sitting in his backyard having a cup of coffee when he spotted one.
"This is like the holy grail," he said. "There are people all over Chicago that are having this experience right now when they see these birds. It's a really rare event that we're all experiencing."
Joyce said he cannot explain why, but there is a general lack of food in coniferous forests north of Illinois.
"Those trees up north didn't produce any seed this year," Joyce said. "These trees go through these cycles. It happens roughly every 10 or 15 years."
Even with a regional drought, Illinois' blue spruce and white pine trees are producing plenty of seeds, he said.
So naturally, the birds are migrating south to feed, "which is a cool opportunity for backyard bird enthusiasts," Joyce said. "This is an invasion here for these species. It's a friendly invasion."
Bird enthusiasts need only lay out a feast of oily sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, shelled peanuts and suet with nuts, and stand back and watch the birds flock, he added.
"They are going to be cycling through probably through some point in March," Joyce said. "It's going to be really pronounced after the arrival of strong cold fronts from the north or northwest. This year is like a birders dream."