Indiana’s 5 Best Bird Watching Spots This Summer!

Written by Shaunice Lewis
Published: September 25, 2022
© iStock.com/:Rawpixel
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There are plenty of reasons why someone would want to visit the great state of Indiana, and one of those reasons is the excellent bird-watching opportunities. Indiana is a beautiful state that is home to over 413 different bird species that can be spotted throughout the year. Let’s take a look at some of the best locations in Indiana where you can go bird-watching and catch sight of some of the most beautiful and interesting bird species. 

1. Willow Slough State Fish and Wildlife Area

Size: 9,956 acres 

Number of bird species spotted: 250 

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Birds to spot: warblers, vireos, thrushes, grassland birds, herons, etc.

This wildlife area is an excellent location for bird watchers as well as nature lovers in general. It is an area that consists of marshland, prairie, woodland, and lakes. With so much variety in landscape and habitat, the Willow Slough State Fish and Wildlife Area makes an excellent choice when it comes to bird watching. The variety of habitats here attracts many different types of birds to watch including warblers, vireos, thrushes, herons, rails, grassland birds, waterfowl, and many others! 

Willow Slough also has a few rare species of birds that you may have a hard time finding in other parts of Indiana like the black rail, Ross’s goose, yellow-headed blackbird, and Smith’s longspur, which is a bird that migrates from the north and passes through Indiana during the fall and spring. Some other birds that can be found here in this location include the osprey and bald eagle, as well as a variety of owls at night.

Not only is Willow Slough fantastic for bird watching, but it also offers hunting, camping, fishing, and all other sorts of fun activities for you and your entire family. Be sure to call ahead, as some of these areas may be closed during hunting seasons. 

bald eagle
Bald eagles don’t develop their white head and tail feathers until they’re 4-6 years of age.

©PHOTOOBJECT/Shutterstock.com

2. Jasper-Pulaski State Fish and Wildlife Area

Size: 8,179 acres 

Number of bird species spotted: 223

Birds to spot: sandhill cranes, wild turkey, hermit thrush, bald eagle, etc. 

Jasper-Pulaski, or J-P for short, is an area of woodlands, open fields, and beautiful lakes. One of the most spectacular things this wildlife area offers is its giant gathering of sandhill cranes. In the fall, thousands of these magnificent birds will gather at dusk in the fielded area before they fly out to the shallow lakes to roost. There can be upward of 30,000 of these sandhill cranes in one gathering! Whooping cranes that migrate from Wisconsin and then head south to the Chassohowitzka Refuge located in Florida can sometimes be seen with the sandhill cranes at J-P. These birds are on the endangered species list and make for a great birdwatching opportunity. J-P also has observation platforms that allow bird watching at long distances much easier. 

J-P is also a great spot for those that want to witness several different species of ducks that come to this location to nest in the spring. There are also marsh birds, as well as warblers that can be found in the woodland trees during the spring. There are many great opportunities for quality outdoor recreation activities and over 8,179 acres of wetland, woodland, and upland habitats. 

Originally, Jasper-Pulaski was designated as a game preserve and farm when it was first acquired in 1929 and during the 30s. In 1958 hunting was allowed to begin on the property. Then in 1965, the area went from being designated as a game farm and game preserve, to a fish and game area. It wasn’t until the year 1972 that the name was changed to include “fish and wildlife area.”

two sandhill cranes
Sandhill cranes are 3 to 4 feet tall.

©Michael Chatt/Shutterstock.com

3. Indiana Dunes State Park

Size: 2,182 acres

Number of bird species spotted: 309

Birds to spot: field sparrow, yellow-breasted chat, American white pelican, worm-eating warbler, etc. 

The Indiana Dunes reside on 2,182 acres of historic land that offers a beautiful, unique landscape. It borders Lake Michigan’s southern shore, giving it over three miles of beach area. In the early 1900s the Indiana Dunes area was preserved thanks to a group of scientists, and nature lovers that recognized the location’s value and its potential. In 1925 the park was officially recognized as preserved area and the Indiana Dunes state park was established. 

As you may have guessed by the name, the Indiana Dunes have large sand dunes that are located beyond their shoreline. The dunes took thousands of years to form and are now over 200 ft tall. At this park, you’ll find a wide variety of habitats that are home to many different species of birds and make a great spot for birdwatching. 

Some of the birds you can find at the Indiana Dunes include hawks, turkey vultures, falcons, swifts, hummingbirds, flycatchers, cranes, sandpipers, and many others. The habitat types for birdwatching in this wildlife area are the dunes, fields, woods, ponds, marsh, swaps, and conifers. 

Flying turkey vulture in the sky
Turkey vultures have a 6-foot wingspan.

©GarySang/Shutterstock.com

4. Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge

Size: 5380 acres (22,083 acres approved for acquisition)

Number of bird species spotted: 146

Birds to spot: wood ducks, cerulean warblers, whooping cranes, interior least terns, etc.

This wildlife refuge was first established in 1994 and is comprised of mostly bottomland forested wetlands. It is located in southern Indiana and has between 5,000 and 6,000 acres of land. The refuge has a goal of expanding the land to 22,000 acres as more becomes available. The type of birds that can mainly be found here are waterfowl since it is a river bottomland habitat.

The Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge is home to one of the largest populations of Interior Least Terns that can be found in their Cane Ridge Unit. There are many great opportunities for birdwatchers to spot magnificent birds here at this wildlife reserve. Some of the birds that can be found here include wood ducks, cerulean warblers, whooping cranes, and interior least terns. There are birding tour maps that are available upon request at the Refuge office to help you easily find the birds you’re looking to spot.

Along with offering great bird-watching opportunities, the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge also offers fishing and hunting activities. The Patoka River, Refuge waters, South Fork, and the overflow wetlands make great fishing spots for fish like bass, red-eared sunfish, crappie, and bluegill, all of which can be found at the Refuge and fished during daylight hours. There are also paddling, hiking, and photography opportunities here.

What Do Wood Ducks Eat - Wood Ducks Swimming
Male wood ducks are some of the most colorful birds in North America.

©Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock.com

5. Salamonie Lake/Reservoir

Size: 2,665 acre lake, 12,554 acre total

Number of bird species spotted: 267

Birds to spot: bald eagle, golden eagle, alder flycatcher, white-eyed vireo, gray catbird, Swainson’s thrush, wood duck, ruby-throated hummingbird, etc.

This is a 2,665-acre lake in north-central Indiana that is surrounded by various habitats including marshes, wetlands, prairies, and forests that are all excellent spots for bird-watching. The entire property rests on 12,554 acres of land. At the lake, you’ll find bald eagles and even golden eagles occasionally below the Salamonie Dam. The lake is also home to many different types of waterfowl that can be found around the open waters during the winter. During the springtime, you may find white pelicans as this location is one of their stopover sites.

Salamonie Lake is free to visit, however, there is an entrance fee for the Lost bridge West SRA during the recreation season which runs from March to November. In total, it takes about 2-4 hours to bird by car, but there are plenty of bird-watching opportunities to last an entire day. Birding year-round at Salamonie Lake is worth your time, but the best time of the year to bird is during the off-season. This is when the lake will be less busy because of fewer campers and boaters. Another great time to visit the lake is during the spring and fall migration season which offers wonderful opportunities to spot migratory birds.

Beyond bird-watching, the lake also offers many fun recreational activities including boating, swimming, fishing, camping, hunting, and special events that are held throughout each season. The Salamonie Lake is a reservoir that helps prevent flooding on the Wabash River. In winter, the lake shrinks to about 976 acres, and in summer can reach around 2,855 acres. The lake can hold about 9,000 acres of water at its max. Summertime at the lake is primarily used by boaters, which does reduce the opportunity for bird-watching, which is why the best time to come for birding is during the off-season when it is less crowded.

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) in flight with a yellow flower and a colorful background.
The average weight of a hummingbird, like this male ruby-throated hummingbird, is less than a nickle.

©Steve Byland/Shutterstock.com

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Elderly man watching birds with binoculars
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