Go With the Birds

By Caryl Clem

Birdhouses in yards are common throughout Illinois providing homes to the possible 400 species. This month in Chicago, WGNTV Published on April 12, 2022 by Mike Lowe and Kevin Doellman an inspiring story about how spare time during the pandemic for creating a project led to walkers changing course to view the hand painted display.  The article titled, Chicago neighborhood tree filled with colorful hand painted birdhouses is a gift to the street is proof of birdhouse popularity. Beyond the appeal is the need to provide shelter to 25 common birds in this region.

Trailside Museum of Natural History in Cook County sponsors a birdhouse building contest every year. Entries run from March 15 to May 15, 2022. The University of Chicago industrial design course includes a design studio for adobes to provide air circulation and feather comfort. The Southbank riverside park will feature birdhouses designed by University of Chicago students.  Chicago’s Botanic Garden created a bird apartment complex for Purple Martins that fly from South America every spring. A sign in Griggsville Illinois boasts Purple Martins have been credited for consuming 2,000 mosquitos a day. Named, The Purple Martin Capital of the Nation for 30 years from the 1960’s a Purple Martin housing industry flourished in this town run by J.L Wade. A 70 foot condo with 562 apartments dwarfs other pole structures on every street. Famous for their songs and areal flight maneuvers, Purple Martins are a favorite.

I have “regular” bird nest returners in my trees or outdoor light fixtures. I have a determined dove that rebuilds a nest every year over one of my garage beacons. The light pole in my front yard has had several different occupants that ignore the 45 year old maple towering overhead. Obviously, these are signs to provide better housing. Birds are my best friends as they consume annoying, biting insects. Simple birdhouse guidelines encourage birds. Earthy natural colors that blend into the environment are safe for nesting birds that do not want predator birds eating their young. Florescent, metallic, or iridescent paints contain chemicals that can harm birds. Brighter colors in a heavily blooming area attract robust fighter birds. Paint can make the wooden birdhouses more durable. Dark colors hold in the hot summer sun heat and can kill a bird inside. Swallows do not want a perch so an invader has a harder time to gain occupancy.

I believe to help nature maintain a healthy balance means “ Go With The Birds “ ,support them in your yard while enjoying a better solution to insect control than chemical sprays.

Buckingham Fountain

My first experience visiting Buckingham Fountain was not pleasant. I remember my Dad and I walking very close to edge of the fountain; terrified of the Art Deco seahorse that was, supposedly, a state staring at me, spouting water. I began to cry; only in kindergarten at the time. The fountain represents Lake Michigan, with four sets of sea horses (two per set) symbolizing the four states—Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana—that bordered the lake. Setting gracefully in Grant Park since 1927, from afar, Buckingham Fountain was absolutely beautiful whether it was during the day or watching the light show at night. I remember many summer evenings driving “downtown” as we described it then to gather at the fountain.

In 1924, one million was donated to the city to build the fountain by Kate Sturges Buckingham, philanthropist and art patron in memory of her brother, Clarence Buckingham, who was director of the Art Institute. My grade school built in 1962 was named after Kate Sturges Buckingham so I know the name well. Work began in 1925; taking two years to build. The fountain is one of the finest ornamental structures though not always appreciated for its elegance The Buckingham Fountain was manually operated from 1927 through the 1970s and my significant other who was 18 was arrested for the first time swimming drunk in the fountain with his friends one night. Back in the 1970’s days, they were arrested but let go, generally without legal consequences, after their parents picked them up.

For years, the fountain was entirely manually operated by two stationary engineers who each worked a daily twelve-hour shift. Historically, the major water displays occurred only twice a day, three times a week. These displays were so popular that they began to be offered every day in the late 1950s. According to the Chicago Park District, they used a keyboard with twenty-one electric switches that could fade, brighten, and blend colors to create numerous light effects. Although the light show was first automated in 1968, the water continued to be manually operated until 1980, when the operations were fully computerized. There were some years that the fountain was not operated here in Chicago but in Atlanta. The Chicago Park District offers some wonderful information concerning the structure, the fountains water capacity and upgrading the computer controlling the fountain in 2013 as well as water display hours.

In accordance with the stay home order, all Chicago Park District fieldhouses and playgrounds will remain closed until April 30th. But generally the fountain does not open until mid May through October, so visiting would be a great trip to put on your wish list.