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.
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.