10 Chicago winter birding locations



By: Penelope Gardner

Bird watching is a fun and educational activity for people of all ages, but with most birds migrating south for the harsh Midwestern winters, it is harder to do at this time of year. However, there are still many places in Chicago to spot birds throughout the winter.

West Ridge Nature Park – 5801 N Western Ave., Chicago, IL 60659

PHOTOS: (left) Educational signage at West Ridge Nature Park provides park-goers with information about upcoming events, Penelope Gardner. (middle) Ducks perch on the frozen pond at West Ridge Nature Park, Penelope Gardner. (right) Three mosaic towers covered with flora and fauna decorate West Ridge Nature Park, Penelope Gardner.

Since the Chicago Park District acquired this 21-acre park in 2012, it has been restored into a bird-watching haven. The trails and boardwalks make for accessible bird viewing and with the addition of nearly 500 native trees and shrubs, this woodland is sure to attract all types of winter birds. Furthermore, the 4.5-acre pond is great for spotting waterfowl.

River Park – 5100 N Francisco Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

PHOTOS: (left) The trail through River Park is nicely paved and has many benches to rest at while bird watching, Penelope Gardner. (middle) River Park is home to many athletic fields and walking trails, Penelope Gardner. (right) A lone duck floats along the Chicago River before diving underwater in search of food, Penelope Gardner.

River Park boasts seven tennis courts, two baseball fields, an artificial turf soccer field, and a running track. However, it’s the park’s bird population that is truly magnificent. At the confluence of the Chicago River and the Chicago Canal River Park is home to various waterfowl. The trees and native plants also have many bird nests, suggesting avians abound.

Horner Park – 2741 W Montrose, Chicago, IL 60618

PHOTOS: (left) Two people kayak down the Chicago River, Penelope Gardner. (right) A squirrel munches on an afternoon snack before scurrying up the tree at Horner Park, Penelope Gardner.

At almost 60 acres, Horner Park is a sanctuary for our feathered friends. While looking for birds, you may also enjoy the lovely walking trails and various other flora and fauna. You could also kayak down the north branch of the Chicago River which passes through Horner Park and view birds along the way. This park also offers a variety of programming for people of all ages to enjoy before or after their bird-watching experiences.

Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary – 200 W Montrose Harbor Dr, Chicago, IL 60657

PHOTOS: (top left) A black-capped chickadee flutters through the trees at Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, Penelope Gardner. (center) A northern cardinal, the state bird of Illinois, brightens up the winter day, Penelope Gardner. (right) When entering the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, the birdsongs fill the air, Penelope Gardner.

At the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, birds thrive at all times of the year. This location was nicknamed the “Magic Hedge” because it attracts so many birds. Researchers and bird enthusiasts have recorded almost 300 species of birds at the sanctuary. As long as the birder remains quiet, they are sure to see a variety of birds with relative ease.

Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary – 2 W Belmont Harbor Dr, Chicago, IL 60657

PHOTOS: (left) A sparrow takes flight after eating some seeds atop a post at the Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Penelope Garder. (right) A flock of sparrows gobbles up the remainder of some seeds a prior bird watcher had left behind, Penelope Gardner.

The Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary is mostly fenced off to protect the native species, but the trail surrounding the sanctuary and the observation decks that look in are great spots for bird watchers. Bring a lawn chair and you’ll be able to pass the whole day in wonder. While you might go birding here in winter, stop back in spring to see the bloom of many native plants.

Northerly Island Park – 1521 S Linn White Dr, Chicago, IL 60605

Northerly Island Park

PHOTO: Lamps light the way through Northerly Island Park where native plants support birding all year round, Penelope Gardner.

The site of the Century of Progress World’s Fair in 1933, this massive space is the perfect place for native plants and animals to thrive. Northerly Island Park has been turned into an oasis for birds and is the perfect place for birding. Featuring both savanna and prairie landscapes, the variety of birds you’ll see will be grand.

Big Marsh Park – 11559 S Stony Island Ave, Chicago, IL 60617

PHOTOS: (left) Trails led outdoor enthusiasts through the marshes, Penelope Gardner. (center) Wetland flora and fauna thrive at Big Marsh Park, Penelope Gardner. (right) The Ford Calumet Environmental Center has guides that will lead you through Big Marsh Park, Penelope Gardner.

Big Marsh Park is full of recreational activities including trails for biking and off-roading, but what’s most exciting is their bird-watching opportunities. While exploring the marshland, bring binoculars because the trees are rife with nests. Big Marsh Park also houses the Ford Calumet Environmental Center, which has exhibits about local ecology.

Hegewisch Marsh Park – 13000 S Torrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60633

Hegewisch Mash Park

PHOTO: Hegewisch Marsh Park has informational signage and benches along paved trails which allow for easy and accessible bird watching, Penelope Gardner.

The muskrat is the most involved member of the community at Hegewisch Marsh Park, but the birds that call this park home are just as vital. Hundreds of birds have been spotted at this park throughout the year and the ongoing restoration efforts increase the variety of birds likely to be seen. The scenic nature trails throughout the park make this a great stop on anyone’s bird-watching journey.

Beaubien Woods – W Doty Ave S, southeast of E 130th St & S Ellis Ave, Chicago, IL 60633

Beaubien Woods

PHOTO: Community volunteers have aided in returning Beaubien Woods to its natural state, Penelope Gardner.

Beaubien Woods is an expansive site with a variety of habitats. Nine acres of wet prairie and five acres of oak savanna have been restored and are now home to many birds. Gulls and ducks, and the occasional bald eagle, can be seen throughout the year at the centerpiece of Beaubien Woods: Flatfoot Lake. To volunteer at Beaubien Woods, sign up here.

Steelworkers Park – S Lake Shore Dr, E 87th St, Chicago, IL 60617

Steelworkers Park

PHOTO: Trees filled with bird nests litter the landscape of Steelworkers Park, Penelope Gardner.

Once the site of a steel mill, Steelworkers Park is now home to rock climbing walls and nature paths that are perfect for biking or long walks. Because of the park’s location between the Calumet River and Lake Michigan, it is an ideal site for waterfowl sightings. This is a family-friendly park with many birding opportunities.

If you struggle to find birds in your area throughout the winter, you will likely be lucky at these locations. However, bird-watching can be done anywhere and needs no special equipment. Anyone of any skill level can participate and slowly learn how to identify birds based on their color, shape, size, habitat, and behavior.

Bird-watching enthusiasts can also consider volunteering with the Birds in My Neighborhood program through Openlands. This program has connected over 12,000 students at Chicago Public Schools with nature through bird-watching. In the 2023-24 school year, the program will be serving 34 schools. To learn more about participating schools, read here.

Volunteers start by meeting the students and starting to teach them about birds in March. In April, they all go on a walk around the school to look for birds. Then, in May, the volunteers meet the students at a bird sanctuary or nature area for a more in-depth birding field trip experience.

“[Birds in My Neighborhood] is such a simple way to connect children to nature through our little bird ambassadors,” Jessica Fong, director of education at Openlands, said. “It shares the infectious joy of nature.”

Birds in My Neighborhood Teachers Workshop

PHOTO: CPS teachers learn how to identify birds, Jorge Garcia.

Learn more about the program here. If you’re interested in volunteering, look out for next year’s volunteer application.

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