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Birdsong Cafe, McHenry, IL

Featured Site Created By kzfisherman

People are drawn to provide habitat for wildlife in their yards for various reasons. Here is a homeowner who discovered this passion through her love of birds. On their quarter acre, this family is doing an impressive job providing food, shelter, water, and nesting habitat for their avian visitors. Her plantings of native trees, shrubs, and flowers also have the added benefit of supporting native pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and other ecologically-critical insects. Read on to learn more about how Lisa Maier is creating habitat in her suburban neighborhood.

What work has been done to improve this site for birds and other wildlife? How long did it take?

My mate and I moved into our house about two years ago and the first big project we wanted to tackle was the yard. Being an avid birder, my idea was to focus on plants that would attract birds. I had become particularly interested in native plants a few years ago on a bird walk after talking to a devoted native gardener.

Prairie Smoke 2015

Photo © Lisa Maier

We started in fall when we first moved in by doing a general clean-up as many plants and shrubs were dead and overgrown and there was a lot of junk. We re-shaped existing beds and added new ones. We also put up several varieties of feeders and a heated bird bath as well as constructing and placing nesting boxes in strategic areas.
Front bed 2015

Photo © Lisa Maier
Over winter, I did a lot of research and made many plant lists and maps while choosing which ones I believed would work best. I focused mainly on native species that would attract birds and insects. I ordered my plants from a native specialty nursery and, in June, we began planting. Unfortunately, we lost a large tree in the backyard during a storm, which also took down a large dead pine tree and two arborvitae, drastically changing lighting conditions, wildlife cover, and habitat in our yard. The birds liked the dead pine snag so we moved and re-planted it on the other side of the yard.
Back yard 2015 (2)

Photo © Lisa Maier
This year we continued to work on the beds, transplanting some of the natives that have come up from seed to other spots in the yard. We have also added a veggie garden and a wood pile. We have planted a pin oak sapling to replace the tree that fell last summer and are constantly making little changes and improvements as we continue to learn. This project will be on-going for years!

What are some successes that you've seen since the improvements were made? (alternatively, "What are you most proud of, or excited to share about this site?")

Birdsong Cafe 2015

Photo © Lisa Maier
I generally feel that the improvements we’ve made have been a big success. I know what people mean when they say they see insects they have never seen before when they switch to native plants. I’ve seen almost 100 bird species (some of them flyovers) at my house. Each day I look forward to what species of birds are going to stop by the “Birdsong Café”, as we call our yard. It is my favorite place to be; a place I can explore, learn, relax, and reflect. It makes me feel good that I can give a little back to the wildlife I love. I continue to learn about native plants and pollinators and how important they are which inspired me to try a larger native restoration project at one of my other sites, Twin Oaks.
Moss Garden 2015

Photo © Lisa Maier

Favorite bird or wildlife sightings

Every time I see a new bird in my yard I get excited! One of my favorites was watching three Tennessee Warblers eating caterpillars off the Mist flower. Another is watching the hummingbirds from just inches away feeding on the Rough Blazingstar.
Golden Alexanders 2015

Photo © Lisa Maier
We had Oregon Dark-eyed Juncos two years in a row. We’ve also had a male Bay-breasted Warbler singing in the front trees for a couple days in spring and Northern Flickers nesting in my neighbor’s tree and foraging in my garden beds. Not to mention all the interesting insects!

Are there any tough decisions that had to be made regarding its management? How were they handled?

I think the biggest initial challenge was deciding which existing plants to keep and which to get rid of. We had a number of non-native species in our yard but we didn’t want to eliminate everything at once. When deciding what non-natives to keep, I focused on what attracted the most birds (like our Mulberry and Weigela) and what provided good cover for birds (like our Japanese Maple and Crabapple). Many people also started giving me plants from their yards and it’s hard to say no to a plant! I also had to dwindle down my very large list of natives I wanted to plant, so as to leave some room for new species in the future.