5 Birds to Look For in Chicago Now: Get to Know Your Backyard Visitors

Millions of people around the country have been sheltering-in-place for about a month and are more intimate than ever with all aspects of their homes. These restrictions have given rise to many old-timey hobbies, including puzzles and coloring, but they’ve also led to a bigger interest in the natural world just outside. On the neighborhood app Nextdoor, countless amateur bird watchers are posting photos of local avians, many of which they’re taking notice of for the first time. 

An age-old pastime, birding is experiencing a massive resurgence. Not only is it essentially a multi-sensory game of real-life “I Spy,” it also yields health benefits that are backed by science. “Evidence is there to support the conclusion that contact with nature benefits our mood, our psychological well-being, our mental health, and our cognitive functioning,” says University of Washington environmental psychologist Gregory Bratman in Audubon Magazine. Bratman led a recent review of these findings across social and health sciences. “The field is starting to build momentum right now.”

Here is some advice for beginning birders from Mark Reynolds, Ph.D., a Senior Scientist at The Nature Conservancy:

“Binoculars will help immensely with your identification skills and enjoyment of birds — there’s link to some expert advice on buying binoculars without breaking the bank below. Birding is about honing your observation skills. So much of the folklore about birding and birders is obsession with difficult-to-observe, rare species. That’s definitely a part of the fun, but it’s important to master the common birds first and build your confidence. So, pick a common bird you can see from your home and get to know it. A robin, sparrow, dove or crow will do. Observe its shape. How would you describe the shape of the head, bill, body, or tail? Does it have distinctive markings (patterns, colors) of any kind? Once you get to know one species of bird in this way, you’ll find that understanding shapes, patterns and markings of even one species will help you learn characteristics to identify many more species. You won’t always see a bird in good light so knowing birds by shapes and patterns can be really helpful. For more information, see Sibley’s Birding Basics, National Geographic Birding Essentials and Hugh Powell’s ‘Nine tips for beginning birders’ — this also includes link to binocular buying guide.”

To help get you started on your own backyard exploration we consulted an expert at the Illinois Ornithological Society for advice. “My first tip is to check out ebird.org and see what other people are reporting in your area right now,” says John Leonard. “It is possible to zoom in — so to speak — on very closeby locales.” But there are many other resources available for backyard birders. “I recommend The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, specifically their Project FeederWatcher and Merlin apps for starters,” he says. He also suggests the Cornell Lab’s BirdSleuth Explorer’s Guidebook that has free and fun downloadable activities for kids K-12. 

Ready to see what’s out there? Here is a handy local bird ID chart, and below you’ll find five common backyard birds that you can see and hear right this moment in the Greater Chicago Area. Click on their names to learn more about them and to listen to their songs.

House Sparrow 

Northern Cardinal 

House Finch 

American Goldfinch

American Robin


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Kasia PowlowskaKasia Pawlowska loves words. A native of Poland, Kasia moved to the States when she was seven. The San Francisco State University creative writing graduate went on to write for publications like the San Francisco Bay Guardian and KQED Arts among others prior to joining the Marin Magazine staff. Topics Kasia has covered include traveltrendsmushroom hunting, an award-winning series on social media addiction, and loads of other random things. When she’s not busy blogging or researching and writing articles, she’s either at home writing postcards and reading or going to shows. Recently, Kasia has been trying to branch out and diversify, ie: use different emojis. Her quest for the perfect chip is a never-ending endeavor.