Illinois’ 5 Best Bird Watching Spots This Summer

Written by Abdulmumin Akinde
Published: September 23, 2022
Image Credit Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com
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The state of Illinois is situated within one of the country’s most important flyways – the Mississippi flyway. Thus, it is one of the most important entry and exit points for various migratory bird species. The 390-mile length of the state also has rich natural habitats and diverse landscapes that support different nesting and breeding bird species. Interestingly, Illinois’ best birdwatching spots are not limited to untouched natural habitats and protected areas. Some of the most popular birding spots are found within the Chicago metropolis. 

On average, the state hosts at least 420 species of birds, thanks to its unique geographic location. Many of these birds can be seen in forest reserve areas, wildlife refuges, and state parks. If you enjoy birding and want to go birdwatching in Illinois this summer, the following places give you the best chance to see some of the most interesting bird species in the state. 

1. Middlefork Savanna

Middlefork Savanna Illinois
The Middlefork Savannah is home to thousands of birds,

John Ruberry/Shutterstock.com

The city of Lake Forest is a bustling upscale community. While the city is quite nature-friendly, many people are often surprised to find a 600-acre tallgrass savanna within the city limits. It’s a rare ecosystem with an abundance of tall grass prairie, open fields, woodlands, and wetlands, which serves as home to a diverse wildlife population, including thousands of birds. 

This location is one of the few black soil savanna left in Illinois and the best of them all. Such a globally threatened ecosystem is quite a rarity, and as expected, there are several uncommon animal species here as well. A few rare finds in previous years include great blue herons, Wilson’s phalarope, whooping cranes, and king rail. The preserve is built around the Middlefork waterway, which is a branch of the Chicago River. You can drive through the drier northern portion of the park or travel south through the more moist areas where water birds are more common. 

Common birds to watch out for at the Middlefork Savanna 

  • Blue-Winged Teal 
  • Green-Winged Teal 
  • Sandhill Cranes
  • Ruby-Crowned Kinglets
  • Bobolink
  • DIckcissel
  • Solitary Sandpiper
  • Red-Headed Woodpecker
  • Great Egret
  • Snow Goose 
  • Canada Geese
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

2. Montrose Point

Montrose Point Illinois
Montrose Point is commonly referred to as “Magic Hedge.”

Jerzy Szwoch/Shutterstock.com

Located on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Montrose Point is a relatively small site that has proven to be one of Illinois’ best birdwatching spots. There are at least 300 species of birds in this location alone which is quite unexpected for an area of that size. Birders fondly refer to an area of this site as “Magic Hedge” because of its magical ability to attract different kinds of birds. 

Montrose Point has a bird sanctuary that receives several migrant songbirds during different seasons of the year. The beach is also a great place to catch a glimpse of shorebirds, with the piers serving as great lookout points for birders. In addition to the numerous bird species on this site, Montrose Point is also a great place to meet and socialize with birders from all over Chicago. 

Common birds to watch out for at Montrose Point 

  • Magnificent Frigatebird
  • Black Rail
  • Purple Gallinule
  • Wandering Tattler
  • Black-Tailed Gull
  • Groove-Billed Ani
  • Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher
  • Townsend’s Solitaire
  • Painted Bunting
  • Red-Throated Loon
  • Thayer’s Gull
  • Iceland Gull 

3. Dixon Waterfowl Refuge

Dixon Waterfowl Refuge Illinois
Water birds are abundant in Dixon Waterfowl Refuge.

iStock.com/EJ_Rodriquez

The Dixon Waterfowl Refuge is an impressive birding location with at least 270 bird species on record. The birdlife of this location is so rich that it has been named a Wetland of International importance. The 3000-acre trip of land located about 40 miles from Peoria includes various wetland habitats, including lakes, marshlands, grasslands, and a small trip of oak savannah. 

Water birds are the most abundant type of birds in this location. However, the refuge has several other bird species to offer. Birders who visit this location often use the 30 ft observation tower to catch a glimpse of the birds here. The area also has four miles of trails that take you through the different habitats. 

Common bird to watch out for at Dixon Waterfowl Refuge 

  • Double-Crested Cormorant
  • American Bittern
  • Bald Eagle
  • American White Pelican
  • Black-Crowned Night Heron
  • Virginia Rail
  • Sora
  • Caspian Tern
  • Common Gallinule 
  • Black Tern
  • Red-Headed Woodpecker
  • Marsh Wren
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Dickcissel
  • Yellow-Headed Blackbird.
  • Northern Harrier
  • Short-Eared Owl 

4. Carlyle Lake/Eldon Hazlet State Park

Eldon Hazlet State Park Illinois
The shore of the Carlyle Lake is an important viewing point for bird watching.

Jason Patrick Ross/Shutterstock.com

Carlyle Lake is Illinois’ largest reservoir. Expectedly, the 26,000 acres reservoir and the agricultural landscape surrounding it is a natural bird magnet, drawing waterfowls, gulls, and even some rare bird species. The lake’s south shore is an important viewing point from where visitors scan for birds. 

The Eldon Hazlet State Park is on the western edge of this reservoir. This 3,000-acre site is one of the largest campgrounds in the state, attracting up to 800,000 visitors annually. The reservoir also has a dam and a recreation area on the east that provide great vantage points for birders. A fish and wildlife area in the north supports an impressive population of shorebirds and geese. 

Common birds to watch out for at Carlyle Lake

  • Laughing Gulls
  • Lesser Black-Backed Gull 
  • Black-Legged Kittiwake
  • Black-Tailed Gull 
  • American White Pelican
  • Osprey
  • Bald Eagle
  • Rough-legged Hawk 

In addition to these, several species of ducks, grebes, and shorebirds call the lake and surrounding areas home. 

5. Horseshoe Lake State Park

Horseshoe Lake State Park Illinois
The abundance of rare bird species in Horseshoe Lake State Park makes it one of the best spots.

Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

The Horseshoe Lake State Park is a 2,960 acres park built around Horseshoe Lake, a branch of the Mississippi River. It is regarded as one of Illinois’ best birdwatching spots because of the abundance of rare bird species you’re unlikely to find elsewhere in the state. The proximity of this oxbow lake to the Mississippi River means it is a small part of the flight corridor that passes through the area. 

The Horseshoe Lake State Park has a record of at least 300 bird species. During the summer, natural wetlands are dewatered to reveal mudflats where migrating shorebirds can stop over and feed on the plants growing there. At least 30 shorebird species visit this area during this period of the year. You’ll also find several forest bird species in the bald cypress, cottonwood, and tupelo trees growing in the park. 

Common birds to watch out for at Horseshoe Lake State Park

  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Surf Scoter
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Long-tailed Duck
  • Sabina’s Gull
  • Iceland Gull
  • Great Egrets
  • Little Blue Herons 
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

These are just a few of Illinois’ best birdwatching spots you can check out this summer. Other notable mentions include the Illinois Beach State Park, Cache River State Natural Area, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, and Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area. The state is at the intersection of eastern forests, great lakes, and prairies, which makes it an exciting location for naturalists and birdwatching enthusiasts looking to explore. 

Up Next 

Wisconsin’s 10 Best Birdwatching Spots This Summer

Nebraska’s 6 Best Bird Watching Spots This Summer

California’s 4 Best Bird Watching Spots

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About the Author

Abdulmumin is a pharmacist and a top-rated freelance writer on Upwork. He can pretty much write on anything that can be researched on the internet. However, he particularly enjoys writing on health, technology and animals. He is inquisitive and currently aspires to become a software engineer. He loves animals, especially horses and would love to have one someday.

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Sources
  1. Audubon (1970) audubon.org/news/birding-illinois
  2. Illinois Audubon Society., Available here: https://www.lakecookaudubon.org/birding-sites/middlefork-savanna-bird-watching/