No debate about DuPage County’s birdiest yard
(published 11-3-05)

When you spot a magnificent frigatebird soaring over Dupage County, you’re a pretty lucky birder. And that’s just what happened to Bob Fisher in September. The frigatebird, a Florida Keys and Gulf Coast native, was evidently carried here by the winds of Hurricane Katrina. It was the first documented occurrence of the species in Illinois since 1988.

For Fisher, perhaps the only thing unlucky about his frigatebird sighting is that it happened two blocks away from his south Downers Grove home. If he’d spotted it from
his own property, it would have been species No. 196 on the yard list he keeps with his wife, Karen, who’s also an avid birder.

Building a yard list of nearly 200 species is ridiculous, and I mean that in a good way. This is DuPage County, after all, not southeast Arizona or some other famous birding hot spot. I’ve been watching birds for eight years in my Glen Ellyn backyard and I’m up to 99 species. Not bad, but my list feels short when I think about what the Fishers have achieved.

“The Yard in Downers Grove,” as local birders reverently call it, it quite simply a bird magnet. And it’s much more than a yard. The Fishers home sits on 3.5 acres with many bird-friendly features, including a small creek. Trees, shrubs and flowers were planted with birds in mind, and brush piles offer further cover.

As for feeders, Bob keeps about 20 of them stocked year-round with a variety of treats. In the winter, he activates two heated birdbaths.

No wonder The Yard is a virtual aviary. It has hosted every possible eastern warbler—35 species in all. When I asked Bob about his favorite all-time sightings, he cited several. Like the time three northern goshawks were in the yard at once. And the day when an osprey landed in the willow tree, clutching a fish in its talons.

Fisher estimates that about 15 percent of his yard species have been flyovers. These include bald eagle, Mississippi kite, peregrine falcon, tundra swan and black tern. Again, ridiculous.

The Fishers like to share their sightings, so when a rarity is spotted in The Yard other birders are welcomed. Many got to see a prairie warbler that once hung around by the creek, and others came to witness an evening grosbeak.

As you would expect, the Fishers are accomplished field birders as well. Last year they set out on a “big year,” to see how many different species they could see in Illinois. Bob tallied 322 for a new state record. Karen saw 316.

The Fishers are active with the DuPage Birding Club, with Bob currently serving as president and Karen helping organize field trips. Bob also volunteers with the Bird Conservation Network.

But getting back to The Yard, Bob modestly points out that time has worked in his favor. He and Karen have been in their current home for 35 years and feeding birds the whole time. Being semi-retired also frees up more hours for observation. But luck still plays a role. Sometimes you just need to be outside at the right moment, like Bob was when those tundra swans passed over in 2003.

It’ll take more good luck, and perhaps years, for the Fisher yard list to hit 200. It will be a magnificent milestone.

Reiter is a Glen Ellyn, Illinois, resident who enjoys birding at home and in the field. You can reach him at

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