Top 5 Spots for Winter Birding at the Garden

As winter grays and whites fold over the outside world and work-from-home fatigue sinks in, a splash of gold, red, or blue can provide a joyful relief. Spy a bird, or two, or three here at the Garden using prime spots recommended by Jim Steffen, Garden senior ecologist and manager of the McDonald Woods.

Winter Birds

1. South Lakes

Head to the south lake area near the Dundee Road bridge to spot wading waterfowl like the brown and black Canada goose, ring-billed gull, or green-headed mallard. Watch these water-loving fowl wade or swoop across the lake to hunt their morning meal.

Winter Birds

2. Dixon Prairie

As an added bonus, find a spot in the Dixon Prairie toward the south end of the Garden for an optimal vantage point to see birds flying over, especially hawks, gulls, and waterfowl.

Winter Birds

3. Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden

You’ll need your eyes and ears to find more birds on your outdoor adventure. Songbirds can be found making different bird calls across the Garden, but head to the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden and hang out by the bird feeders to the north of the building to hear the chirps of black-capped chickadees. These little critters may be cute, but they’re tough enough to survive harsh Illinois winters by lowering their body temperature while they sleep. Look closely along the path for flashes of movement from song sparrows as they hone-in on the feeding area.

Winter Birds

4. McDonald Woods

Make your way to the McDonald Woods beneath the canopy of native oak trees to catch a glimpse of more feathered friends. Look up to see a red-tailed hawk soar above in search of small mammals to hunt. Once they catch their prey, they retreat to the high branches nearby. Red-bellied woodpeckers are found here too—the males are easier to spot because of their bright red forehead.

Winter Birds

5. Sensory Garden

Walk along the woodland path in the Sensory Garden, paved with tall birch and alder trees, to discover round goldfinches, buzzy pine siskins, and crimson-headed common redpolls. These perky birds love nibbling on the seeds provided by these snow-covered trees.

Before you go, remember these helpful tips

  • Dress for the weather, especially when it’s extra nippy.
  • If you go birding solo or with a small, quiet group, you’re likely to see more birds.
  • Lastly, field guides can be really handy for helping you identify your discoveries.

Some Helpful Books

Birds of Illinois, by Sheryl DeVore; The Fandex Family Field Guides: Birds: Wild Birds of North America; and Birds, Nests and Eggs Take-Along Guide, by Mel Boring; andPeterson Field Guides, especially Peterson Flashguides: Birds of the Midwest

Leena Saleh
Marketing and Editorial Content Writer
January 20, 2021