State of Illinois

Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis ©Ken Thomas - Wikimedia
Birding Illinois

Illinois’ unique geographic location combined with its geologic past creates conditions ripe for a rich and diverse landscape, and thus, a rich and diverse bird life. The state spans 378 miles, and as a result, bird life varies greatly from the top to the bottom of the state. Northern Illinois attracts irruptive winter species such as Northern Shrikes and Snowy Owls, while southern Illinois, with its cypress swamps and hilly terrain, is reminiscent of a Louisiana bayou.

A natural boundary between the moist forests in the eastern United States and the drier prairies of the West passes through Illinois. Situated along one of the nation’s major flyways, the Mississippi, Illinois is bounded on the west by the Mississippi River, the east by Lake Michigan and the Wabash River, and the south by the Ohio River, perfect entry and exit points for migratory and breeding birds. Illinois attracts massive numbers of migrating waterfowl, shorebirds (waders); loons (divers); raptors, and passerines including an astounding passage of warblers in spring and fall. The state also hosts one of the largest wintering populations of Bald Eagles in the United States. These American icons winter along the state`s rivers, and their breeding numbers are rising.

Illinois once harboured expansive grasslands. Today, less than one percent of Illinois’ native prairies exist. But people are working to preserve them and protect breeding grassland species including Bobolinks, Grasshopper and Henslow’s Sparrows, Dickcissels, Upland Sandpipers, and Eastern and Western Meadowlarks Scattered among the prairies are wetlands in the north and prairie potholes in the central part of Illinois. The state-endangered Black-crowned Night-Heron, Pied-billed Grebe, and other birds confined to marshes still find places to nest in Illinois. Growing among the prairies, too, are woodlands, where Wood Thrushes and Scarlet Tanagers breed. The patchwork nature of Illinois’s woods today, due to development, has created a major problem for breeding forest birds, which are being parasitised by Brown-headed Cowbirds, which lay their eggs in other birds’ nests.

West-central Illinois once contained a collage of sloughs, wetlands, and woods where millions of migratory waterfowl and other birds fed or rested. Restoration has returned some of the natural floodplains within the Mississippi Flyway along the Illinois River. Lake Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge is designated as an internationally important shorebird migratory stopover. This region attracts thousands of shorebirds annually including dowitchers, phalaropes, yellowlegs, sandpipers & plovers, as well as many duck species.

The southernmost part of the state remained ice-free during Illinois’ last ice age. Instead, geological action beneath the earth uplifted the ancient seabed to create the Shawnee highlands, what is now the Shawnee National Forest. Here, bald cypress swamps attract herons, egrets and Pileated Woodpeckers. Prothontoary Warblers nest in cavity holes overlooking the rivers. High in the trees, are breeding Northern Parula, Yellow-throated and Cerulean Warblers. River bottomlands provide habitat for breeding Louisiana Waterthrushes and Acadian Flycatchers. Some places in the southern part of the state have attracted 19 species of breeding warblers.

Because of its variety in climate, ecosystem, and geological landscape, Illinois is growing in importance as a birding state, one where rare birds can be protected if humans will help.

Sheryl De Vore is the Chief Editor of Meadowlark, A Journal of Illinois Birds, and author of Birding Illinois, published in March 2000 by Falcon Press, and Northern Flights: Tracking the Birds and Birders of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, published by Mountain Press in June 1999.

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 444

    (As at August 2018)
  • iGoTerra Checklist

    iGoTerra Checklist
    Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
Useful Reading

  • A Birders Guide to the Chicago Region

    | By Lynne Carpenter & Joel Greenberg | Northern Illinois University Press | 1999 | Paperback | 242 pages, Maps | ISBN: 9780875805825 Buy this book from
  • ABA Field Guide to Birds of Illinois

    | By Brian E Small | Scott & Nix, Inc | 2017 | Paperback | 384 pages, 500+ colour photos | ISBN: 9781935622628 Buy this book from
  • Birding Illinois

    | By Sheryl De Vore | Falcon Press | 2000 | Paperback | 368 pages | ISBN: 9781560446897 Buy this book from
  • Birds of Illinois

    | By Marc Parnell | Naturalist & Traveler Press | 2021 | paperback | 304 pages, colour photos | ISBN: 9781954228078 Buy this book from
  • Birds of Illinois

    | Sheryl de Vore, Steven D Bailey & Gregory Kennedy | Lone Pine Publishing | 2004 | Paperback | 376 pages, Colour illustrations, distribution maps | ISBN: 9781551053790 Buy this book from
  • Finding Birds in Jackson County, Illinois

    | By Henry D Detwiler | Henry D Detwiler | 2017 | Paperback | ISBN: 9781365973680 Buy this book from
  • Illinois Birds

    | (A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species) | by James R Kavanagh & Raymond Leung | Waterford Press | 2000 | Unbound | 12 pages, colour illustrations | ISBN: 9781583551448 Buy this book from
  • Illinois Birds : A Century of Change

    | By Jeffery W Walk, Michael P Ward, Thomas J Benson, Jill L Deppe, Stacy A Lischka, Steven D Bailey & Jeffery D Brawn | Illinois Natural History Survey | 2010 | Paperback | 230 pages, colour & b/w photos, illustrations, and tables; colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9781882932269 Buy this book from
  • Southern Illinois Birds

    | (An Annotated List and Site Guide) | By Douglas W Robinson | Southern Illinois University Press | 2016 | Paperback |488 pages, 39 Illustrations | ISBN: 9780809335176 Buy this book from
Useful Information
  • State Bird

    Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
  • Illinois Raptor Center

    Observatory WebsiteSatellite View
    The Illinois Raptor Center is a non-profit wildlife and environmental education center located near Decatur in central Illinois.
Museums & Universities
  • Draper Museum of Natural History

    Ornithology - One of the best known of the Academy collections, consisting of 12,000 skins and over 1,000 mounted specimens. An important addition in 1965 was the donation of 3,600 specimens from S S Gregory, which includes ivory-billed woodpeckers and Carolina parakeets. In all, 583 species of North American birds are represented. Fully 30% of the birds were collected before 1900, including important Illinois specimens from Robert Kennicott and Benjamin T. Gault. There is also a valuable collection of nearly 1,000 Alaskan skins.
  • Field Museum (Chicago)

    The Field Museum was founded to house the biological and anthropological collections assembled for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. These objects form the core of the Museum's collections which have grown through world-wide expeditions, exchange, purchase, and gifts to more than twenty million specimens. The collections form the foundation of the Museum's exhibition, research and education programs, which are further informed by a world-class natural history library of more than 250,000 volumes. There are interesting collections of books relating to the history of Ornithology in Columbia.
  • Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

    Nature. It's closer than you think. In fact, it's just steps away from Lake Shore Drive in Chicago's chic Lincoln Park. Here, you'll find a natural oasis, conveniently located right here in the city. Discover the mysteries of nature – up close…
  • Audubon Great Lakes

    A regional office of the National Audubon Society, Audubon Great Lakes manages conservation work throughout the region to protect and improve habitat critical for birds during their migration and nesting cycles, we build networks of volunteers and advocates for the natural environment. Within the National Audubon Society’s network, Audubon Great Lakes is viewed as a leader in building communities of citizen scientists and conservationists that take the lead in advocating for and managing the ecosystems that birds need to thrive
  • Audubon Society in Illinois

    Interactive lists of societies etc
  • Champaign County Audubon Society

    National Audubon is carrying out several campaigns, with regular newsletters coming to each chapter of the Audubon Society. The most recent newsletter for the Wildlife Refuge campaign reminds us how important our national wildlife refuges are for conserving our wildlife heritage, yet despite this importance they continue to be vulnerable to numerous threats. The closest National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is at Chautauqua on the Illinois River, with 6 more being on the Mississippi River and one at Crab Orchard Lake
  • Chicago Audubon Society

    Founded in 1971, the Chicago Audubon Society’s mission is to promote the understanding and appreciation of nature, and to aid in the conservation and restoration of our natural ecosystems for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biodiversity. Chicago Audubon carries out its mission through a combination of education, stewardship and research programs, supported by fundraising efforts designed to further involve Chicago Audubon Society members in their favorite pastime, observing and studying birds and other wildlife.
  • Chicago Ornithological Society

    The Chicago Ornithological Society, or COS, is a modern birding club that promotes the scientific and educational aspects of ornithology in the greater Chicago, Illinois area. Many COS members are serious birders, but the club's programs, field trips and birding classes and workshops appeal to and educate a broad spectrum of bird lovers, from the casual backyard feeder watcher to the fanatical lister. Birders of all levels participate in and enjoy COS's activities…
  • Decatur Audubon Society

    Decatur (Illinois) Audubon Society is a chapter of the National Audubon Society. We are located in Macon County, in the heart of Illinois farmland. Decatur is known as the soybean capital of the world, but in spite of being surrounded by cornfields and soybean fields, this region does have natural areas in which to bird. The Sangamon River flows through the center of Macon County, creating havens for birds and other wildlife along its tree-lined corridor. Within Macon County and adjoining counties there are many parks, several conservation areas and even a few nature preserves. Trails and greenways are being expanded and will connect many of these natural areas.
  • DuPage Birding Club

    Founded in 1985, the DuPage Birding Club is nationally known as one of the largest and most active birding groups in Illinois. Our mission is to promote birding among our 250+ members and the general public through education and field experiences that take advantage of the various habitats in DuPage County, the greater Chicago area, and other regional hotspots.
  • Evanston North Shore Bird Club

    An organisation devoted to wild birds and their habitats. It is committed to sharing this devotion with anyone interested in the natural world.
  • Illinois Audubon Society

    The Illinois Audubon Society was organized as an independent, state-wide, educational and scientific organization, incorporated April 10, 1897, by the State of Illinois. The Society has no connection with the National Audubon Society, which was formed several years later…
  • Illinois Ornithological Records Committee

    The Illinois Ornithological Records Committee (IORC); founded in 1985, evaluates the evidence for records of birds that are rare or unusual in Illinois. As a standing committee of the Illinois Ornithological Society, IORC strives to improve the quality of submitted ornithological field data in Illinois both through example and dissemination of pertinent information and techniques.
  • Illinois Ornithological Society

    IOS is dedicated to promoting an increased awareness of birds in Illinois. IOS is for everyone! Founded in 1992, the organization has grown to number more than 700 amateurs and professionals interested in birds and birding in Illinois.
  • John Wesley Powell Audubon Society

    Wecome to the John Wesley Powell Audubon web site. JWP Audubon is a chapter of the National Audubon Society and is an affiliate of Illinois Audubon. Our chapter area includes Bloomington/Normal, Illinois; surrounding McLean County; and parts of adjacent central Illinois communities. We take our chapter name from John Wesley Powell; 19th Century explorer, geologist, naturalist, anthropologist, ethnologist and teacher…
  • Lake County Audubon Society

    The Mission of the Lake County Audubon Society is Education, Conservation and Restoration of natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, and other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity
  • Middlefork Audubon Society

    Anyone interested in birds or nature is welcome to join no matter their birding experience. A division of the Illinois Audubon Society.
  • Nature Conservancy in Illinois

    Another excellent NC site this one with a changing photo and a map to click to take you to very good info on different (p)reserves
  • North Central Illinois Ornithological Society - Rockford Bird Club

    The Rockford Bird Club [aka North Central Illinois Ornithological Society] website was created to help connect area birders with each other to increase the enjoyment of birding in Northern Illinois. Here you will find information about area birding events, recent bird sightings…
  • Northwest Illinois Audubon Society

    The Northwest Illinois Audubon Society is dedicated to the cause of good stewardship of planet Earth. The society's strongest commitments are in the areas of environmental education, habitat preservation, pollution control, wildlife protection and resource conservation
  • Peoria Audubon

    Founded in 1930, Peoria Audubon is a chapter of the National Audubon Society with memberships in the Audubon Council of Illinois and the Peoria Academy of Sciences. It is also an affiliate of the Illinois Audubon Society. All National Audubon Society members are automatically members of the Peoria Audubon Society. Peoria Audubon Society serves the Central Illinois River Valley as a source for environmental education, bird and butterfly monitoring and conservation advocacy and action.
  • Prairie Woods Audubon Society

    Facebook Page
    The mission of the Prairie Woods Audubon Society, as a chapter of the National Audubon Society, is to conserve the environment, to preserve wildlife and natural habitats, and to provide opportunities for education, nature appreciation, and fellowship…
  • Sinnissippi Audubon Society

    The Sinnissippi Chapter of the Audubon Society was founded in the 1970’s and is committed to wildlife preservation in the Rockford region.
  • Thorn Creek Audubon Society

    The mission of the Thorn Creek Audubon Society is to promote the enjoyment and appreciation of birds, to educate adults and children concerning our natural environment, topreserve, protect, and restore wildlife habitat, and to create awareness of local conservation issues
  • Vermillion County Audubon Society

    Facebook Page
    The Vermilion County Audubon Society is members of the community dedicated to promoting environmental awareness. We work to preserve and restore natural habitats for birds and other wildlife. We support conservation and education programs locally, nationally, and internationally
  • Whimbrel Birders Club

    Facebook Page
    Whimbrel Birders Club was established in September 2016 and is a birding club for all ages. Oliver Burrus, Isoo O’Brian, Benjamin Sebastian, and Eddie Kasper run the bird walks. We are all young birders from northern Illinois.

Abbreviations Key

  • BS Montrose Point

    Facebook PageSatellite View
    A small finger curling out into the lake, Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary can boast in having over 300 species recorded, including some of the rarest birds ever recorded in the state. A small stretch of low-lying bushes and small trees on the west side of the sanctuary in particular have been a magnet for migrating songbirds and rarities. Some would say that the hedge seems to bring birds in like magic. The nickname for this spot is fitting: “The Magic Hedge.”
  • IBA Lake Calumet

    InformationSatellite View
    The Calumet region, covering southeast Chicago, some south suburbs, and northwest Indiana, is a place to experience nature like nowhere else in Chicago. Despite past environmental abuse and neglect, a variety of wildlife, including rare birds and flowers, has not given up on the Calumet Wetlands…
  • NPr Lake Renwick Preserve - Copley Nature Park

    InformationSatellite View
    Located on U.S. Route 30, Copley Nature Park is a small, 3-acre preserve that provides year-round viewing into Lake Renwick Heron Rookery Nature Preserve. Fixed viewing scopes allow for up-close bird watching from a completely different vantage point than is seen from the Lake Renwick Heron Rookery viewing area…
  • NTGP Midewin

    WebpageSatellite View
    The tall-grass prairie supported abundant wildlife including bison, elk, wolves, black bears, and hundreds of species of birds…
Sightings, News & Forums
  • Illinois Birding Network

    Discussion Group
    A place for Illinois birders to share sightings, pictures, videos, good birding locations, etc. This group is open to birders and birdwatchers of all skill levels, so please be polite and helpful
Trip Reports
  • 2018 [05 May] - Geoff Upton - Canada & US

    PDF Report
    Arkansas (US), Florida (US), Illinois (US), Louisiana (US), Ontario (CA), Tennessee (US)
Other Links
  • Birds of Fermilab

    These pages present the results of an ongoing survey of the bird life found on the 6,800 acre site of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory which is located just west of Chicago, Illinois, USA. The diverse habitat to be found on Fermilab`s 6800 acres and the relative lack of disturbance combine to make Fermilab one of the best bird-watching locations in the entire Chicago area. The list of birds seen at Fermilab boasts 252 species including 83 confirmed breeding species and a further 7 which have probably bred there but for which actual confirmation has not yet been obtained. A variety of habitats are found on Fermilab grounds and include upland forest, flood plain woods, oak savannah, restored prairie, grasslands, pasture, croplands, fence rows, scrub, and a variety of lakes, streams and wetlands.
  • Chicago Bird Collision Monitors Site

    Helping Migratory Birds Safely Navigate the Loop
  • Gadwall Birding Page

    This page, sponsored by The Gadwall Group, is a collection of information about birding in the Chicago area, as well as information that is a little more global in scope. This guide has been created to assist those visiting Chicago in finding some of the best places to bird. It is NOT comprehensive. The content is based strictly on our personal experiences and lore that we`ve learned. We`ve used available published material to supplement the enormous gaps in our knowledge. Some content was prepared by others and is indicated.
  • Illinois Natural History Survey

    This site contains a set of profiles and distribution maps of bird species occurring in Illinois, along with a few other selected species. This site is presented jointly by the Illinois Natural History Survey and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
  • Natural Editions

    We write books, articles, and chapters; edit magazines and articles; perform research; take photos; present nature programs; support conservation; and watch birds. Join us to learn, share, enjoy, and connect about nature and the environment in the midwestern United States
  • Jane Ward - Walk with Me

    Walk with me on my photographic journey through the Illinois River Valley… Last updated March 2014
  • Jeff Reiter - Words on Birds

    I've been birding seriously since 1994. That year I saw a bird at KiawahIsland, S.C., that really caught my eye. My naked eye, too, but it was only about 15 feet away. Later I was able to easily i.d. the bird as a Hooded Warbler. So that was the spark.

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