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Birding FAQ's

Frequently asked questions related to birds and bird-watching.



Why aren't there any birds at my bird feeder anymore?

There are many possible reasons why birds may not be visiting your feeder.  Just as you may go out for a walk in the woods one day and see nothing, there will also be days when you see few birds in your yard.  Although reasons may never be fully known, some days birds may be less active due to the weather.  At other times, birds may simply be feeding in other areas.  Even birds that visit your feeder regularly may still be getting 80% of their food from other natural sources.  Birds have varied habitats and many have tendencies to roam even when food is plentiful in one area.


Another possible reason for a lack of birds is the presence of some kind of disturbance that is scarring them away.  A Cooper's Hawk or other bird of prey may be around near your yard.  You may not have seen one, but hawks will often hide silently in a tree, dart through your yard after a bird, and then leave (once their cover is blown and the birds are aware of their presence).  However, the result may be that birds are hesitant to come out back in the open for a considerable period of time.  Repeat visits by a Cooper's Hawk or other hawk may increase this hesitancy even more.  Cats, Squirrels, noisy neighbors, and other distractions can also have an effect.


If birds aren't visiting, it may also be a good time to clean and disinfect your feeder.  Some birds seem to recognize when a feeder is dirty and/or moldy (regardless, you should clean your feeder regularly to prevent the spread of disease).  See the Backyard Birding pages for details about cleaning your feeder.


I found an injured bird.  What should I do?

These recommended items will help you gain the knowledge you need to find, identify, and learn about Illinois birds.  A broad collection of the items below will make these tasks much easier.


Birds are hitting my windows.  What can I do to stop this?

These recommended items will help you gain the knowledge you need to find, identify, and learn about Illinois birds.  A broad collection of the items below will make these tasks much easier.


How do birds migrate and know where to go and when to leave?

These recommended items will help you gain the knowledge you need to find, identify, and learn about Illinois birds.  A broad collection of the items below will make these tasks much easier.


If I leave up my hummingbird feeder in the winter, will the hummingbirds not migrate?

Almost all experts say NO.  In fact, leaving your feeder up - if anything - will likely help the birds.  Birds have a natural impulse to migrate south in the winter that isn't simply due to lack of food.  Birds that stay at your feeder late into the fall are likely staying for other reasons, such as being sick.  Leaving up your feeder will help these birds survive longer into the winter and/or store up enough energy to make their trip south.  Leaving up your feeder will also provide you with an opportunity to see one of the rarer species of hummingbirds.  In Illinois, any hummingbird that is still present in November should be reported and looked at very closely.  Almost all Ruby-throated Hummingbirds leave northern Illinois by late October or earlier.  Rare species, like Rufous Hummingbirds, often show up in November into December.


Do hummingbirds migrate by riding on the backs of other birds?

NO.  This is a myth.  There are many small birds, some even smaller than a hummingbird.  The thought that these birds can migrate great distances on their own is baffling to many people, but it is true.  However, many birds do die each year trying to migrate across large oceans, lacking sufficient food, or colliding with windows, towers, or buildings (to name a few examples).  Even many species of butterflies and other insects migrate.  Some of these species simply rise in the sky, catch a current, and allow themselves to be blown in the wind over great distances.  Birders looking through spotting scopes during the spring and fall for hawks and other birds will sometimes even see butterflies float by (facing sideways or even backyards) riding with the wind.





  A Birder's Guide to the Chicago Region:

By Lynne Carpenter and Joel Greenberg

This guide provides excellent descriptions and directions to more than 250 excellent birding sites in NE Illinois as well as nearby counties in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan.  Other highlights include site productivity ranked by season, monthly birding suggestions, and a brief guide to each bird species with overall rarity and the best spots to view them.  The guide also includes excellent area maps and detailed maps of select birding sites.

  Birding Illinois:

By Sheryl DeVore

This guide provides excellent descriptions and directions to more than 110 premier birding locations throughout Illinois.  Other highlights include a guide to 54 Illinois "Specialty Birds" and an excellent checklist of almost all Illinois bird species with an incomparable rarity "bar" that shows the bird's rarity/abundance by month and even quarter months.





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1. The Sibley Guide to Birds (North America):

Written and illustrated by David Allen Sibley

Put down your Peterson's, shelf your Golden Guide, store your National Geo., file your Stokes, and stash your Kaufmen's.  The Sibley Guide to Birds is, by far, the most accurate and helpful guide available to date.  We all have our favorite "first" bird guide, but if you cringe whenever anyone mentions "peeps", "sparrows", "gulls", "immatures", or "confusing fall warblers" than the Sibley Guide to Birds is a must-have.  It may take some time to get use to this new guide with "cartoonish, brightly colored birds", but once you dive in you will quickly see how accurately David Allen Sibley captures a bird's shape, coloring, and patterns.

2. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America:

Written and illustrated by David Allen Sibley

One of the newer additions to the Sibley series, this is an excellent companion (or replacement) guide to the above title.  This new guide comes in a much more compact form that can be easily carried in the field and covers only the birds that are seen in Eastern North America (but still as far west as the Dakotas and parts of Texas).  Lacks a few of the uncommon plumage patterns that are illustrated in the full North America version.  The smaller pictures also have slightly less detail.  Improved, detailed maps.

3. Birds of Illinois:

Sheryl DeVore, Steven D. Bailey, Gregory Kennedy

A long-overdue field guide of "319 species of birds" found in Illinois.  This is a great companion guide to the ones above, and is highly recommended for beginning birders who may find it difficult to sift through the many birds illustrated in Sibleys.  Includes maps of bird ranges in Illinois and extensive text regarding ID, habits, and status in Illinois.  Quality illustrations, but not as accurate as Sibley's.  Lacks illustrations of many female, immature, and non-breeding plumages.

4. Stokes Field Guide to Birds - Eastern Region:

Donald & Lillian Stokes

This photographic guide contains about 400 species found in the eastern half of the U.S.  It is a valuable additional resource, but is not recommended as a primary bird guide.  Sometimes photographic guides will provide insight into details of a bird that are not apparent in most illustrations, but many similar looking birds may be difficult to identify.  Some photos also subdue or wash out important features / colors on some birds.  Lacks photos of many female, immature and non-breeding plumages.  Maps are rather small and simplistic.  Short descriptive text.

5. Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America:

Kenn Kaufman

This pseudo-photographic guide combines photographs with modern technology to produce enhanced images that accurately depict colors and ensure that important field marks are well shown.  Fairly inclusive of female and immature plumages.  Moderately detailed maps.  A decent primary guide, but not to par with the Sibley guides.





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1. DeLorme - Illinois Atlas & Gazetteer:

A detailed map book with about 95 sectioned maps showing almost all county and state roads, even including many minor gravel roads.  Excellent for long-distance trips and for chasing after reported rarities in rural Illinois areas.  Large format, thin, paged book.

2. Rand McNally [200X] Road Atlas:

An excellent US travel map including multiple maps of the Chicago area and major Illinois cities.  Also includes mile marker and distance information not covered in the DeLorme Illinois Atlas.  Large format, thin, paged book.

3. Rand McNally Street Guide [200X]: Chicago 7-County:

A very detailed map book showing ALL streets and roads in the seven county area around Chicago.  Also available in smaller single or two county formats.  An invaluable resource for local birders and birders participating in Chicago area Spring Bird Counts and Christmas Bird Counts.  Standard format, thick, easy to use Spiral Bound book.





Eagle Optics (Madison, Wisconsin):

A well-known optics distributor based out of Madison, Wisconsin.  Highly recommended and well-respected among the birding community.  Visit Eagle Optics through the IOS website and 5% of your purchase will go to the Illinois Ornithological Society.



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