Cook County

Birding the Lincoln Park Zoo area

The zoo grounds and surrounding park are an excellent place to bird during migrations. Chicago’s Lincoln Park, taken as a whole, is arguably the most popular birding destination in Illinois, and probably in the Midwest.

The zoo area has some challenges, such as parking and fences. If you can find a spot, the best place to park is on Stockton Drive, which borders the zoo on the west. N. Lincoln Park West (a half block west of Stockton) also has meter-free street parking. The zoo parking lot is very convenient, but quite expensive. A morning of birding may cost up to $20.

South of the zoo proper is South Pond, branded “Nature Boardwalk”. From late March through early June this area can have spectacular numbers of migrants. One of the main attractions here is the nesting colony of Black-crowned Night-heron. Up to 500 birds can be seen on or about the island in the pond, but in recent years, the colony has nested in the dense American Linden trees along the Grand Promenade, running straight south from the pond. The cattail and sedge marsh along the west edge of the pond has had summering Least Bittern.

The large oak trees to the east of the Grand Promenade is an excellent place to look for warblers and other migrants. Migrants that have been regularly seen in this section include Summer Tanager, Cerulean Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Red-headed Woodpecker. In May, flocks of sparrows can be found in the grass (look for un-mowed dandelions). Clay-colored Sparrow and LeConte’s Sparrow should be looked for, especially along the edges of the paths.

Walking north, along the east side of the pond, there is a group of large Black Locust near the Grant statue. Like the oaks, these trees can be full of migrants, and they tend to hold birds a little longer, as the trees are the last to flower in the park. This group of trees is a very good place to look for Empidonax flycatchers in late May.

As you walk around the pond, scan the island carefully, especially the water’s edge. The many dog-walkers in the park will flush birds that will find respite on the island. Many skulkers might be seen working the island’s tangled shore, such as Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Waterthrush, Mourning Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and other species that might come down to drink.

Walking north, follow the path along the shore of the pond, up and over Ridge Drive (the bridge), and enter the zoo at the turnstile gate. The path along the hoofstock yards can be very productive, and check the yards themselves carefully, especially the northernmost two. These two have more cover than the others, and migrants will come down to drink from the watering pools maintained for the antelope and deer on exhibit.

At this point, follow the path to the left (west) to another small boardwalk at the south end of the Swan Pond. This is another migrant hotspot, and the tall Cottonwood trees can sometimes hold a hawk or owl. A Northern Goshawk spent most of a winter here, and Great Horned Owl is frequently seen here. Continue along the west side of the pond, checking the plantings and trees as you go along.

Follow the path along toward the main mall of the zoo, but then stay to the left and follow the smaller pathway up behind the stadium seating at the Sea Lion Pool. Check conifers and flowering trees here, especially for Pine Warbler and Cape May Warbler. This path will bring you out at the entrance to the Children’s Zoo.

The Children’s Zoo has densely planted conifers, flowering trees and flowing water features … and can be a superb birding location. The Black Bear exhibit in particular attracts many birds, and some species tend to linger here in late fall/winter.

After walking through the Children’s Zoo, exit via the main gate. From here you can check the Rock Garden to the north of the entrance (directly east of the fountain). The outside edge of the Black Bear exhibit, east of Stockton at Dickens, is also worth checking carefully.


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  • StevejnerChicago

    At North Pond, Located just North of the Zoo accross Fullerton on 04/07/13 – A male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker spent most of the morning in the trees along the eastern shore of the pond. A lot of Red Fox and Song Sparrows were present all around the pond. A Brown Creeper has been frequenting the trees on the western edge of the pond. Also seen were Golden-crowned Kinglets, A Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron, Eastern Phoebes, Red-winged Blackbird males, House Sparrows. A Gadwall pair and Bufflehead pairs are still present as well as some Wood Duck pairs. Three Caspian Terns and quite a few Gulls were present. After I had left, a friend of mine said she saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler and Blue-winged Teals.