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Birdwatching

birdwatching

Birding Lake County

Did you know that birding is the number one sport in the United States? According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are over 51 million birdwatchers or birders in the United States alone, and this number continues to grow. Learn more »

The same survey reports that nearly $24 billion is spent each year on birding equipment and supplies (such as binoculars, feeders and field guides), making birding a major economic driver.

Most everyone has a story of a bird encounter that has impressed them in some way. Birds are fun to watch because they are often easy to spot, active and quite varied and numerous compared to many other animal groups. Given their prevalence, birds may seem ordinary, but there are complex aspects to their lives that make even the most common bird a thing of wonder.

Residents Versus Migrants

Birds seen in Lake County are either residents or migrants. Resident birds spend their entire lives here, never leaving the area. Learn more »

Our bird residents typically eat seeds, nuts or are carnivores that depend on insect larvae, mammals, or other birds for food. Birds that feed on fruit, nectar, or flying insects usually leave for the winter to find food farther south.

Visiting birds may pass through during migration or spend only a season here to nest or find food. To complicate matters of classification, some birds seen year-round, such as blue jays, might be migrants. Many jays that we see in the winter have come from the north, perhaps from central Wisconsin, while jays we see in the summer may spend the winter in southern Illinois.

Most people think of migration as a spring and fall phenomenon. In actuality, birds are migrating year-round, some in every season, some for long distances and others for short stretches. Migration is traveling to the right habitat for survival with food being the primary motivation. Photoperiod, the interval in a 24-hour period during which a plant or animal is exposed to light, is the biggest trigger for migration of birds. Since a bird cannot predict the weather hundreds of miles away, the consistent input of photoperiod ensures that seasonal events such as migration happen at the right time. Day-length, and the resulting knowledge of the season, is significant to most animals. In birds, photoperiod not only predicts migration but can provoke changes in feather color, molting, nesting, and even a bird's song repertoire.

Some birds have specific habitat requirements for breeding and nesting. We take note of these birds because they are good indicators of an ecosystem's overall health. Red-headed woodpeckers, for example, are very choosy and only nest when tree spacing meets their nesting needs. This species is considered in critical decline and in greatest need of conservation. Restoration efforts such as our Woodland Habitat Restoration Project will benefit this species by providing proper nesting habitat.

Migration

Mississippi-flyway-460x360

Literally millions of birds migrate through our region in the spring and fall along the Mississippi Flyway, which is part of a larger migration route called the Mackenzie Valley-Great Lakes- Mississippi River Valley. The Lake Michigan shoreline is acknowledged as one of the most important migration routes in the United States for songbirds, but it is simply one section of the greater Mississippi Flyway. Flyways are historic migration routes that provide food, shelter, and a visual north-south orientation.

In Lake County, nearly 200 inland lakes and the Des Plaines River Greenway also provide important migratory stops. Chances are, there is a fantastic birding spot in a forest preserve near you.

Guide to Lake County Birds

Learn the best times and places to see different bird groups in Lake County.

Bird Group Location Best Time To Spot

DUCKS

313_Blue-Winged_Teal

Almond Marsh
Cuba Marsh
Des Plaines River*
Fort Sheridan
Rollins Savanna*
Van Patten Woods

Northern migration: February–May; Southern migration: October–November. Some ducks are winter visitors to Lake County.

Image: Blue-winged teal (John James Audubon)

NEO-TROPICAL MIGRANTS

Chestnut-sided warbler (Audubon)

Des Plaines River*
Grant Woods
MacArthur Woods*
Ryerson Woods*
Wright Woods*

Spring is a great time to look for members of this group including warblers, vireos, hummingbirds, wrens, thrushes and more.

Image: Chestnut-sided warbler (John James Audubon)

SPARROWS

Song_sparrow_(Audubon)-1

Nesting sparrows:
Middlefork Savanna*
Rollins Savanna*
 

Sparrows can be seen countywide.

The first to arrive in late March are song sparrows. Other sparrows soon pass through on their journeys farther north.

Thought sparrows can be seen countywide, the majority are non-native house sparrows. To find the more exciting native species, we recommend searchinng preserves with grasslands.

Image: Song sparrow (John James Audubon)

BLACKBIRDS

Red-winged blackbird (Audubon)

Yellow-headed blackbirds:
Middlefork Savanna*
Rollins Savanna*

Male red-winged blackbirds are true harbingers of spring. Other members of this group, such as grackles and cowbirds, follow in April.

Red-winged blackbirds are found near marshy areas. Look on edge of wooded areas for cowbirds.

Image: Red-winged blackbird (John James Audubon)

SHOREBIRDS

Kildeer plover (Audubon)

Almond Marsh
Cuba Marsh
Des Plaines River*
Fort Sheridan
Rollins Savanna*
Middlefork Savanna*
Rollins Savanna*
Van Patten Woods

Kildeer: early March; other shorebirds return April–May. Many visiting shorebirds pass by on their trips farther north. This group is hard to spot during dry seasons. Shorebirds start southward migration in late summer.

Image: Kildeer (John James Audubon)

WOODPECKERS

Redheaded woodpecker (Audubon)

Fort Sheridan
MacArthur Woods*
Middlefork Savanna*
Rollins Savanna*
Ryerson Woods*

Look in wooded preserves. Year-round: northern flickers and downy, hairy, red-bellied and red-headed woodpeckers; spring: pileated (rare); spring and fall: yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

Image: Red-headed woodpeckers (John James Audubon)

BLUEBIRDS

Bluebird (Audubon)

Almond Marsh
Buffalo Creek
Grassy Lake
Independence Grove
Old School
Ryerson Woods*
Singing Hills

May be seen year-round, although March–November yields the most sightings.

Image: Female and male bluebirds (John James Audubon)

CRANES, HERONS, EGRETS

Great blue heron (Audubon)

Almond Marsh
Cuba Marsh*
Des Plaines River*
Fourth Lake
Fox River
Lakewood
Middlefork Savanna*
Nippersink
Rollins Savanna*
Sedge Meadow
Singing Hills
Van Patten Woods
Wright Woods*

Can be seen in wetlands countywide March–November.

Image: Great blue heron (John James Audubon)

 

OWLS

Little screech owl (Audubon)

Barred owls are found in floodplains:
MacArthur Woods
Ryerson Woods*
Wright Woods*

Snowy owls can be seen along Lake Michigan:
Fort Sheridan
Spring Bluff**

Long-eared and saw-whet owls prefer evergreens:
Lyons Woods
Pine Dunes

Great-horned and eastern screech owls seek wooded preserves.

Year-round residents: barred, eastern screech, and great-horned owls. Winter visitors: long-eared, saw-whet, short-eared and snowy owls.

Image: Little screech owl (John James Audubon)

OPSREY, HARRIERS, HAWKS, EAGLES

Red-tailed_hawk_(Audubon)

Southern migration:
Fort Sheridan

Bald eagles:
Des Plaines River*
Fox River
Independence Grove

Northern harriers:
Rollins Savanna*

Hawks are seen countywide.

Southern migration: September–October yields the most variety, especially along Lake Michigan–watch for bald eagles, broad-winged hawk, Cooper's hawk, northern harrier, osprey, red-shouldered hawk and red-tailed hawk.

Image: Red-tailed hawk (John James Audubon)

 

* National Audubon Important Bird Areas
Rollins Savanna, and the upper Des Plaines River Corridor (including Cahokia Flatwoods, Captain Daniel Wright Woods, southern portions of the Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway, Grainger Woods Conservation Preserve, Half Day, MacArthur Woods, and Ryerson Conservation Area) have been designated as Important Bird Areas by the National Audubon Society for providing critical bird habitat.

** Limited Access
Please limit birding at this site to the closed road that goes through the preserve. Parking can be found just east at the North Point Marina.

FOR THE BIRDS

Providing food for wild birds can be an enjoyable way to welcome wildlife into your yard.

Regularly cleaning your feeders will prevent the spread of disease and keep unwanted visitors such as coyotes away.

Birdfeeders

Place hawk silhouettes in nearby windows to deter birds from colliding with reflective glass.

Planting native species of trees, shrubs and wildflowers provides natural food sources best suited to native birds. Visit our annual Native Plant Sale for details.


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