Illinois is a state famous mostly for the city of Chicago, the largest metropolitan hub of commerce and culture in that region of the United States. But Illinois also has a rich geography with plenty of flora and fauna to write home about–especially when it comes to birds.
- Most Common Birds — White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Downy Woodpecker, American Robin, Mourning Dove, Ruby-throated Hummingbird
- Rare Birds — Bohemian Waxwing, Hoary Redpoll, Barrow’s Goldeneye
- Environment of Illinois — Great Lake, lakes, rivers, plains, hills
- Best Time for Birdwatching Travel — Year-round birding available, but migration during spring and autumn months are best
Top 5 Illinois Birding Trails
If you’re thinking about exploring the state of Illinois for some great birding opportunities, be sure you don’t miss out on these top five bird watching trails in the Prairie State.
Lincoln Park Bird Sanctuary
In Chicago’s North Side, along the lakefront, you’ll find Lincoln Park, a 1,200 acre park that stretches for seven miles, from Ohio Street to near Ardmore Avenue. Lincoln Park is Chicago’s largest public park and it features more activities, vistas, museums, attractions, and paths than you could ever hope to explore in a day.
Of the many destinations within Lincoln Park–which include a zoo, lily pool, nature and history museum, and flora conservatory–the Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a must-visit hotspot for avian enthusiasts. The sanctuary, which used to be called the Lincoln Park Addison Migratory Bird Sanctuary, is fairly unique in that almost the entire thing (all seven acres) is enclosed by a fence to preserve it from the damage of human hands.
But just because you can’t go inside, that doesn’t mean you can’t set your sights on a great many species of fabulous flyers. A nature trail and series of observation platforms allow glimpses at the sanctuary’s herons, ducks, woodcocks, hawks, cuckoos, hummingbirds, thrushes, and many other avifauna varieties.
Visit the official site of Lincoln Park Bird Sanctuary
Mississippi Palisades State Park
Located near Savanna, Illinois, and right on the Mississippi River, the Mississippi Palisades State Park is a beautiful haven for birders from around the country. During any given year, there are nearly 200 species of bird that live or rest in the park.
You can come to the Mississippi Palisades any time of the year to check out the amazing avifauna, but the park is especially noteworthy in the spring and fall months during migration and breeding seasons. Of the 200 species of bird you can see at the Mississippi Palisades State Park, almost 100 of them actually breed there. This is much more than a stop along the migration trail! So what kinds of birds can you catalogue and collect at this excellent state park? Well, among the vast variety are: American White Pelicans, Snow and Canada Geese, Buffleheads, Golden Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, Purple Finches, Wild Turkey, and so much more.
Visit the official site of Mississippi Palisades State Park
Busse Woods Trail
This 11.2-mile trail can be found inside the Ned Brown Forest Preserve, a 3,700 acre area located west of Chicago. The Busse Woods Trail cuts through the preserve and provides any number of beautiful and scenic vistas of lakes, meadows, and the forest itself.
The trail is paved with asphalt and is frequently used by hikers, cyclists, and equestrians, as well as birders, but it’s never incredibly crowded so you can be sure you’ll have plenty of solo time with your binocs. Aside from birding, you or other members of your family also have the opportunity to go boating, fishing, or hiking in the preserve–the family of moose that call the Ned Brown Forest Preserve home are worth checking out once you’ve had some time watching the birds along the trail.
Stretching 13 miles, from Willow Springs to Romeoville, the Centennial Trail is an asphalt-paved pathway that takes you through the heart of rural Illinois. Especially enchanting during the fall, when the leaves are changing on the trees, the Centennial Trail is a wonderful trip through the beauty of nature, featuring a great many spots for sightseeing and bird watching.
The Centennial Trail is labeled a canal trail, because it runs alongside a canal for a good length of time. While it’s paved, if you decide to go birding with your bicycle, be aware that portions of the path are torn up or littered with large branches that pose hazards.
The trail itself is perfect for hikers, though, offering plenty of shade in the summertime and protection from winds during the more wintry months.
Des Plaines River Trail
One of the best trails for birding, hiking, cycling, and nature loving in the entire state of Illinois is the Des Plaines River Trail. Following near the banks of its namesake for better than 50 miles, this trail features innumerable vista points and birding hotspots.
From the Illinois-Wisconsin border in the north to the western suburbs of Chicago in the south, the Des Plaines River Trail passes through nature preserves, protected forests, small communities, and natural wildernesses for much of its length, getting the journeyer as close to nature as possible in a highly populated state. If you go, be aware that much of the path is built from crushed stone, so wear supportive footwear that will help you not turn and ankle, stub a toe, or do anything to detract from the joy of your birding expedition.
About the State of Illinois
Everything about the state of Illinois is diverse–from its culture to its geography, its economy to its ecology. Due mostly to bigger cities like Chicago, Springfield, and Peoria, Illinois is the fifth most populated state in the United States. But the state’s population is generally concentrated around the larger, more urban areas, leaving much of the rest of the area in a state of natural preservation.
The wilderness of Illinois covers a wide variety of terrains, from lakes to rivers and plains to hills, making for a diverse region. The Illinois state parks system was put in place over a hundred years ago and has since created and preserved more than 60 individual parks in the state. Illinois is certainly a must-see destination for folks looking to thrive in the big city, but it’s also a hotspot for nature lovers looking to spend time in parks, wildlife refuges, and conservation areas.
For bird lovers and non-bird lovers alike, one of the most popular regions in the state is in the northeast, where Illinois borders Lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes. Here, you’ll find any number of recreational activities, tourist spots, and natural vistas for birding. It’s a beautiful state with a beautiful history, and the bird watching available is absolutely top notch.