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Polly Want a Cracker with That Suet?


When food is scarce, our little feathered friends make a beeline for the feeders. Most of the birds wear drab colors — a protective camouflage — this time of year. Goldfinches, for example, shed their bright yellow plumage in late fall, and by winter, they blend in with the drab tan and grey of tree bark and stems. Others, like blue jays and cardinals, are particularly colorful against snow-covered branches. However, “If you thought cardinals were impressive, check this out,” says gardener Jan Lord of Midlothian. In past year, her backyard feeders have attracted a few monk parakeets each winter, but this week, her backyard has become a mini-Margaritaville for these tropical-looking birds. “There were at least 11 or 12 of them at the feeders but there were more in the trees. They seem to like the suet.” She emailed the photos to local researchers who were unaware that the birds were attracted to suet.

Although they hail from South America, monk parakeets have managed to adapt to Chicago winters for more than four decades. They were first spotted in Chicago about 1973. Unlike the fluid and lyrical songs sung by some of our beautiful native songsters, monk parakeets let forth high-pitched screams. They’re generally found in Chicago’s Hyde Park where their nests — made from sticks—can be several feet wide. They’ve been spotted in many suburbs as well. You can see a distribution map here.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Whether you live in the city, suburbs or a more rural spot, there are plenty of hungry birds that would love to dine at a feeder in your garden. For tips on winter bird feeding, check out the National Bird-Feeding Society’s website. Happy Birdwatching.

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questions

Late last year most of the leaves on my year-old seven-son tree (Heptacodium) turned brown, starting at the tips. It had some new growth on the tips and buds. I used a tree ring soaker hose every two weeks.

I brought a frangipani (Plumeria) back from Hawaii last April when it was just a leafless branch. It sprouted leaves and grew over summer. Now it is losing its leaves. How can I keep it growing over winter? Will it bloom?

I recently moved to Chicago from Houston and I miss fresh picked figs. Is there any way to grow figs in Chicago short of installing a greenhouse? Will sunny windows do? I’m desperate.

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