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updated: 11/27/2012 8:59 AM

Suburban backyards see invasion of rarely seen migratory birds

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  • Daily Herald photographer George LeClaire entices a red-breasted nuthatch to land on his hand using peanuts, the 4-inch bird's favorite food on Nov. 15 in Glenview. Postings on the Illinois Audubon Society Facebook page show the bird is in the area in large numbers for the first time since 2007 and 1989 migrations.

      Daily Herald photographer George LeClaire entices a red-breasted nuthatch to land on his hand using peanuts, the 4-inch bird's favorite food on Nov. 15 in Glenview. Postings on the Illinois Audubon Society Facebook page show the bird is in the area in large numbers for the first time since 2007 and 1989 migrations.
    photos by George LeClaire/gleclaire@dailyherald.co

  • A male red-breasted nuthatch with a wingspan of seven inches dives off a feeder in Glenview on Nov. 11 with a peanut, his favorite food, in his beak. The four-inch-long bird hides the peanuts in a nearby tree's bark and comes back for more for hours at a time.

       A male red-breasted nuthatch with a wingspan of seven inches dives off a feeder in Glenview on Nov. 11 with a peanut, his favorite food, in his beak. The four-inch-long bird hides the peanuts in a nearby tree's bark and comes back for more for hours at a time.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • A blue jay in Glenview on Nov. 18 uses its strong black bill to crack nuts and acorns. The bird is a noisy, bold and aggressive passerine, but the large bird is a moderately slow flier and makes easy prey for hawks and owls when flying in open areas.

       A blue jay in Glenview on Nov. 18 uses its strong black bill to crack nuts and acorns. The bird is a noisy, bold and aggressive passerine, but the large bird is a moderately slow flier and makes easy prey for hawks and owls when flying in open areas.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • A male and female red-breasted nuthatch landed on Daily Herald photographer George LeClaire's hand more than 50 times in a 3-hour period to grab peanuts as he took photographs and shot a video of the half-ounce bird in Glenview on Nov. 15.

       A male and female red-breasted nuthatch landed on Daily Herald photographer George LeClaire's hand more than 50 times in a 3-hour period to grab peanuts as he took photographs and shot a video of the half-ounce bird in Glenview on Nov. 15.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • A rare sighting of a male juvenile rufous hummingbird occurred Nov. 11 in Susan and Mike Giannini's backyard in Glenview. The hummingbird was still in her yard last week. The bird may be off its migration course due to the drought and looking for food. The bird looks similar to ruby-throated hummingbirds, which are common in Illinois in the summer through September.

       A rare sighting of a male juvenile rufous hummingbird occurred Nov. 11 in Susan and Mike Giannini's backyard in Glenview. The hummingbird was still in her yard last week. The bird may be off its migration course due to the drought and looking for food. The bird looks similar to ruby-throated hummingbirds, which are common in Illinois in the summer through September.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • A male white-breasted nuthatch almost six inches long clings to a suet feeder designed for nuthatches in Glenview on Nov. 18. The bird has been drifting from wooded areas in Illinois to backyards in the suburbs over the last five years.

       A male white-breasted nuthatch almost six inches long clings to a suet feeder designed for nuthatches in Glenview on Nov. 18. The bird has been drifting from wooded areas in Illinois to backyards in the suburbs over the last five years.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • A nine-inch long male red-bellied woodpecker hangs upside down from a suet feeder and seems to be using his belly as a plate Nov. 2 in Glenview. You should select suet for your feeder based on what type of birds you want to attract.

       A nine-inch long male red-bellied woodpecker hangs upside down from a suet feeder and seems to be using his belly as a plate Nov. 2 in Glenview. You should select suet for your feeder based on what type of birds you want to attract.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • An 11-inch-long blue jay with a wingspan of about 16 inches grabbed 20 peanuts, one at time, in 45 minutes off the top of a grill Nov. 12 in Glenview.

       An 11-inch-long blue jay with a wingspan of about 16 inches grabbed 20 peanuts, one at time, in 45 minutes off the top of a grill Nov. 12 in Glenview.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Bird eats from George's hand

 
 

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."

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