Grab your binoculars, camera and get ready to explore the beauty within Chicago Southland.
There are over 40,000 acres of forest preserves throughout the Chicago Southland. The Forest Preserves of Cook County and Forest Preserve District of Will County are a wealth of information about all things nature, especially birds.
The Forest Preserves of Cook County started a big campaign to #BirdthePreserves with hundreds of bird-related events throughout the year. New and experienced birders can enjoy this fun and versatile year-round activity while experiencing the many amenities offered throughout the Forest Preserves, including miles of marked trails, major waterways that can be canoed or kayaked, dedicated nature preserves, nature centers and more.
Recently, Cindy Cain from the Forest Preserve District of Will County wrote a great blog on 5 Reasons to Enjoy Nature during the Winter, where they mention that “winter provides an opportunity to see rare bird species that have migrated from up north, including tree sparrows, dark-eyed juncos and snowy owls.”
A lot of our local bird watchers say that the best options are where there is water. Migration season is from early September to mid-October as well as in the spring starting late March through May. We have been lucky in the last few years with a return of eagles in the South West suburban area.
Some other lesser known places for bird watching are listed below.
5683 Flossmoor Road, Tinley Park
Bird and nature enthusiasts will enjoy walking through the open grasslands, listening and looking for a host of birds unique to this region. After several years of agricultural use, the Forest Preserves of Cook County has done restoration work to Bartel Grassland, encouraging many species to return, and it is now recognized by the National Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area for bobolink. Bartel once again serves as a breeding habitat for grassland birds, many of which migrate here from South and Central America every summer. Birders may see bobolink, eastern meadowlark, grasshopper sparrow, Henslow’s sparrow, savannah sparrow, sedge wren and dickcissel. Look for short-eared owl and northern harriers in the winter.
BURNHAM PRAIRIE NATURE PRESERVE
2866 East 142nd Street, Burnham
The most common species spotted at Burnham Prairie, according to EBird.org, are the red-winged blackbird, chimney swift, mallard and greater white-fronted goose. Burnham Prairie is part of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County’s Bird the Preserve initiative and located in the Chicago Lake Plain Section of the Northeastern Morainal Natural Division. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources it is recognized for its dry-mesic prairie, wet-mesic prairie, wet prairie and savanna communities.
9601 West 167th Street, Orland Park
A hike through Orland Grassland, at the southern edge of Orland Park, provides expansive views of gently rolling prairie and wetland. The 960-acre site has more than 750 acres of open prairie in which rare grassland birds find needed habitat. The area was once farmland but is now being restored as a grassland complex with prairie, wetlands, open ponds, oak savannas, shrublands and woodlands. Visitors can walk respectfully through the open grassy areas and by the low wetlands that dot the preserve. (Stay to the preserve’s perimeter May through early August, as grassland birds use the interior for nesting during this time.) The Forest Preserves of Cook County are developing a paved trail that will run just inside the perimeter of the preserve. Enjoy the sights and songs of birds seen almost nowhere else. Be sure to bring binoculars or a camera.
If you’re taking beautiful pictures of birds while visiting Chicago Southland, please tag your pictures on Instagram and Twitter with #ChicagoSouthland. Have you visited Chicago Southland to go bird watching? Where is your favorite place to see our feathered friends? Let us know in the comments.