It wasn't that long ago, when I felt helping birds was putting up a few birdhouses, but that isn't the case any more. In Illinois, in a couple hundred years we have gone from millions of acres of prairie to a few thousand. The prairie and woodlands provided cover, water, food and nesting required by birds.
Loss of habitat is the major reason for the reduction of wildlife. Cornell Lab has confirmed we have lost 30% of the number of breeding birds in North America since 1970. One research study showed community neighborhoods have less than 70% of the original vegetation. Birds will not survive unless they have plenty of food, shelter and water. A case in point the Red-winged Blackbird had been the most popular bird in Illinois, but because of the loss of wetlands habitat, it is now the English Sparrow. People of my age can remember the flocks of blackbirds heading south that would blacken the skies because there were so many. Now we see a flock of a few birds now and then.
I encourage homeowners to add native plants to their gardens and flowerbeds. By planting native plants, you are helping to restore wildlife habitat and preserve species that may otherwise be lost forever. Native plants that have evolved in Illinois have a far greater ability to fuel life up the food chain. Some insects need specific native plants and others cannot or will not eat anything but native plants. If one fourth of the homeowners in the area would plant native plants in their gardens and flower beds, what a boost that would be for birds in particular, and wildlife in general!
Birds are now returning for the summer and I suggest you keep your sunflower feeder full to watch the Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Goldfinch changing colors and birds that were here before winter. Also put out an orange cut in half (I poke a hole in it and tie on a string, and attach it to the feeder close to the window - not too close so they fly into the window) and grape jelly for the Baltimore Orioles. The hummingbird feeders are put up later when more flowers are in bloom. The hummingbirds returned to Illinois each spring when the native Columbine plant was in bloom on the prairie. I taper off the sunflower seeds and cakes of suet when I feel the plants and and insects are providing enough food. Plus the birds do need what they find in nature in their diet. I began feeding the birds in early fall for the migrating birds and those who stick around for the winter. If you put the feeders out early fall more birds will find the feeder and more birds will visit during the cooler days of winter.
I have a birdbath which is also heated in the winter. All birds need water and you will see more birds and more kinds of birds using it. The ideal birdbath is flat and not too deep. Keep it clean and full of water.
I clean out, build and repair birdhouses during the cold of winter. Bluebird houses should be put up no later than the middle of March, and other cavity nesting birds by the middle of April.
To help the birds, more people in their yards need to plant trees, bushes with berries, flowers with seed and add birdhouses, birdbaths and bird feeders. Welcoming birds to your yard isn't only about choosing the right feeders, bird food and bird houses. It is about also including a diversity of native plants along with cut grass.
There are several places to get native plants, but I will list the places I have worked with. Prairie Moon Nursery, Winona Minnesota, Plants for Pollinators, Taylor Ridge, Illinois, Henry County, Rock Island County, and Stark County Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
Bird Nut of Henry County