Cook County - Cook County Forest Preserves

Chicago Botanic Garden

McDonald Woods – The woodland is a good place to view both spring and fall migrants. Anywhere along the wood chipped nature trail will offer opportunities to see many neotropical migrants in the canopy and in the dense herbaceous vegetation in this restored oak woodland. In particular, the long wooden boardwalk across a shrubby wet area along the trail is good for warblers, sparrows and some waterfowl when water collects in this area in spring. In summer, you can find many of the woodland breeding bird here, such as Eastern Wood Pewee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-eyed Vireo, Red-bellied, Downy, and Hairy Woodpeckers The woodland edges along the road are also good places to spot Indigo Buntings.

Barbara Brown Nature Reserve – The Reserve is located on the far southeast end of the Garden. It contains six acres of combined prairie and woodland vegetation surrounding a four-acre lake. The gravel path provides access to the south and east end of the Reserve. This area is good for neotropical migrants in spring and fall in the trees along the path. The prairie provides habitat for sparrows and goldfinches when seedheads are dropping seed. The lake is a good placed to spot Black-crowned Night-Herons, Green Herons, Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, Double-crested Cormorants, and gulls and Caspian Terns. During the summer, there are a few nesting birds in the Reserve, like Red-bellied and Downy Woodpecker, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and American Goldfinch.

Mud Flats – At the east end of the Garden, there is an area of silt deposition from the Skokie River in the lake south of the Dixon Prairie. This area provides some of the best opportunities for spotting shorebirds, herons, egrets, Caspian Terns, and waterfowl.

Dixon Prairie – The Dixon prairie on the south end of the Garden is one of the best locations in the Garden to observe many species of sparrows, including; LeConte’s, Nelson’s, Song, Swamp, Savanna, Vesper, and several other sparrow migrants. Careful viewing on the circular boardwalk on Marsh Island in the prairie can result in interesting species such as; Sora, Virginia Rail, and Wilson’s Snipe. During migration, it is not unusual to find Short-eared Owls roosting on Marsh Island or in the fen at the base of the gravel hill prairie. In late fall and winter you may find Lapland Longspurs, American Pipits, and Snow Buntings. The open view of the sky in this location also makes it a good place for observing birds flying over the Garden. The Dixon prairie is a location where you can almost always find nesting Orchard Orioles, either in one of the bur oaks out on the prairie, or in the white poplars bordering the road on the east side of the prairie.

Plant Science Center Woods – The stand of Cottonwood trees on the north side of the Plant Science Center along the east road is a good place to view warblers and other neotropical migrants, especially early in the morning when the sun warms the tops of these tall trees and gets the insects active. It is often possible to spot these birds here first before the sun gets to the trees in the woods and elsewhere at the Garden. During the summer, this is a good location to find nesting Warbling Vireos and Baltimore Orioles.

Waterfall – The Waterfall Garden is a good place for birds both spring and fall. The east-facing slope of the garden gets some of the first sun in the morning making it attractive for insect eating birds. The slope, backed by the Dwarf Conifer Garden, also provides a protected area out of the wind making it attractive to all species.

Lakeside Garden – The abundance of flowering trees along the Lakeside Garden walk is a good place to spot warblers, vireos, thrushes, and many other species during the spring migration.

Sensory Garden – The Sensory Garden is a good location for spring migrants, but is possible better for fall opportunities to see an abundance of hummingbirds attracted to the flowering shrubs on the southeast end of the upper path. It is not unusual to see a dozen hummingbirds in this area. Also, later in fall and winter, the alders and birches in the garden attract numerous winter finches like Pine Siskins and redpolls. Hoary Redpolls have been seen here regularly. This is also another location for searching for nesting Orchard Orioles.

Open Water in Winter – South of the Horticulture building on the extreme south end of the Garden, there is an area in the Skokie River that often remains open in winter that is attractive to winter waterfowl. It is not unusual to spot Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers, and other duck species. This is one of the few locations at the Garden where scoters have been spotted in the past. Barrow’s Goldeneye has been found in winter in the often open water south of Dundee road, just outside the Garden.

Lakes – Although all of the lakes are connected, they still provide opportunities for viewing different species because of size and depth. The north lake and the lake south of Evening Island are large and open enough that they often attract species like Common Loon. Large rafts of Red-breasted Mergansers are often seen in these same locations as well as north and south of the Japanese Islands. The lake south of Marsh Island often attracts a variety of puddle ducks like; Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, and American Wigeon. For whatever reason, one of the spots where Eared Grebes have been seen on occasion is north of the Fruit and Vegetable Island.

Miscellaneous – Given the proper weather conditions, the Garden is a good place to view fall hawk migration. Any time in fall after the passage of a strong cold front followed by westerly winds, it is possible to observe a variety of migrating raptors. It is not unusual to see a hundred or more raptors if you spend the day here. In late fall, as lakes in the northern parts of the country freeze over, we have had spectacular Sandhill Crane migrations at the Garden. Many thousands of cranes can often be seen in late November and early December. During these crane flights, it is possible to see hundreds of waterfowl along with dozens of late migrating raptor species. Good locations for viewing these flights are in the Green Roof Garden on the Plant Science Center building or the tall hill on the northeast end of Evening Island.

In general, the Garden’s close proximity to the shore of Lake Michigan, abundance of water, diversity of vegetation and corresponding habitat edges, make the Botanic Garden an attractive stop-over location for a great variety of birds. Checkout our bird list on the Garden website for information on season and abundance.