The best bird watching in Windy City Chicago

Along Lake Michigan, Chicago’s landmark skyline, beaches and parks not only attract millions of visitors annually, but also millions of birds, especially during spring and fall migrations. The city ranks as one of the top bird-watching destinations in the country because of its abundance of fresh water and location on the Mississippi Flyway, one of four major migratory bird routes in North America.

“During migrations, Chicago attracts some of the highest numbers of diverse bird species in the country because they stop here to rest and feed in the city’s open, green spaces before continuing their journeys,” says Judy Pollock, president of the Chicago Audubon Society.

More than 350 bird species have been spotted in Chicago during annual migrations. They pass through while flying from the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, Mexico and Central and South America to their breeding grounds in the northern US and Canada.

Bobolinks are birds often found in prairies.

In spring, uncommon species seen in Chicago include piping plovers, Kirtland’s warblers, bobolinks, whimbrels and American avocets. During fall migration, birds, including thousands of hawks, stop here before heading south.

The city’s bird-friendly public lands are free to enter. Many are accessible via public transportation and the city’s extensive bike path network. Visitors can join guided walks and educational programs hosted by birding groups and nature centers.

Lakefront hot spots

“Some of Chicago’s 613 parks protect globally rare natural areas, such as dunes on the lakefront, as well as prairies, wetlands and oak savannas representative of native landscapes found in Illinois before 1400, which is pre-European settlement,” says Matt Freer, Chicago Park District assistant director of landscape, cultural and natural resources. According to Freer, 361 bird species have been sighted in the 15-acre Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary in Lincoln Park on Chicago’s North Side.

A bird watcher in the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary in Chicago

Just after dawn, when birds are most active, birders flock to the sanctuary in spring to see as many as 35 species of colorful warblers flit around the dense thicket of honeysuckle shrub called the “magic hedge.” The thicket flanking a paved path looping through the park was planted to camouflage Army barracks, now gone, on the former Cold War Nike missile site. In the sanctuary’s protected dunes, a pair of rare piping plovers that local birders named Monty and Rose return annually to nest.

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