CHICAGO — Roland Kulla might have the best backyard in Back of the Yards.
The artist owns four city lots, one for his home and three for a giant garden that's filled with flowers, beehives and loads of birds — both year-rounders and others migrating through.
The quarter-acre of green space is prime habitat for the birds, which include robins, juncos, cardinals, sparrows, goldfinches, house finches, white-crowned and white-throated sparrows, an occasional thrush or crane and rose-breasted grosbeaks.
"When I had more trees a few years ago, I'd sometimes attract a kestrel," Kulla said. "There are red-tailed hawks in the neighborhood. And two weeks ago an American bittern showed up."
Kulla specifically plants landscapes that attract birds. He sports an herb garden, vegetable plots, a small prairie and perennial garden and a tiny orchard. He has a bird bath with a solar-powered pump that he says "gets a lot of use." He has two beehives, too, supplied by Bike a Bee.
"Roland's yard is incredible," Bike a Bee's Jana Kinsman said. "Normally Bike a Bee doesn't place hives in private residences, but his yard convinced me otherwise. City-rare birds and insects thrive there, and every time I am there to inspect the two hives, I am greeted by a new surprise."
Kinsman said she usually eats "my first strawberry and raspberry of the season at Roland's."
The birds dine on a variety of feeders, and for the second straight year, Kulla has a nesting pair of robins in his backyard gazebo.
Kulla hopes to see hummingbirds soon. When he lived in Hyde Park about a decade ago, he spotted one in his yard, but he hasn't been lucky in his nine years in Back of the Yards. He tried to improve his chances this year by planting flowering vines that hummingbirds crave.
For Kulla, his Back of the Yards yard is proof nature can thrive in even the most urban of settings.
"Working with nature — using native plants, for example — supports local wildlife," he said. "It can also have the added benefit of being less labor-intensive and easier to maintain."