Ultimate Birding in Illinois: More Birds Than Soybeans?

A while back I had the opportunity to drive a couple of hours through the Illinois countryside. I wasn’t doing any birding in Illinois on this trip, but I did pay attention to the land – the crops, in particular – as I traveled down the road, which was a state highway, not the interstate.

Illinois state bird: Northern Cardinal

Photo Credit

I saw, as expected, lots and lots of corn in the fields. I also noticed that, besides the corn, there seemed to be only one other crop that almost every farmer grew.

I didn’t recognize it at first, but it turns out to be soybeans. Maybe if I had had my binoculars along, I could have figured this out sooner.

In fact, there were so many fields of soybeans that I actually began to wonder whether there were more soybeans or more birds in Illinois. I suppose I’ll never really know for sure. I also wondered where the best spots for birding in Illinois were located. What follows is a list of many of the top hotspots for bird watching, some of which will probably surprise you.

Official Illinois Bird List

The Illinois Ornithological Society maintains a complete list of birds that have been seen in the state. You can see their detailed listing here on their site.

I have taken that list and simplified it below. I removed the 3 extinct species and deleted all the scientific classification information (and thus any need for a key to that information). I also regrouped the birds in a few cases, since things like genus or species didn’t matter anymore.

Since the official list may change over the years, be sure to check the official site for updates. I do not intend to keep this list in synch with theirs. There won’t be all that many changes over time.

I realize that this list doesn’t tell you where within the state to find the birds. There’s more on that below this complete list.

Ducks, Geese, and Swans

  • Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
  • Fulvous Whistling-Duck
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Snow Goose
  • Ross’s Goose
  • Brant
  • Cackling Goose
  • Canada Goose
  • Mute Swan
  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Tundra Swan
  • Wood Duck
  • Gadwall
  • Eurasian Wigeon
  • American Wigeon
  • American Black Duck
  • Mallard
  • Mottled Duck
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Northern Pintail
  • Garganey
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Canvasback
  • Redhead
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Tufted Duck
  • Greater Scaup
  • Lesser Scaup
  • King Eider
  • Common Eider
  • Harlequin Duck
  • Surf Scoter
  • White-winged Scoter
  • Black Scoter
  • Long-tailed Duck
  • Bufflehead
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Barrow’s Goldeneye
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Common Merganser
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Ruddy Duck

Partridges, Grouse, Turkeys, and Quail

  • Northern Bobwhite
  • Gray Partridge
  • Ring-necked Pheasant
  • Ruffed Grouse
  • Sharp-tailed Grouse
  • Greater Prairie-Chicken
  • Wild Turkey


  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Horned Grebe
  • Red-necked Grebe
  • Eared Grebe
  • Western Grebe
  • Clark’s Grebe
Clark's Grebe
Clark’s Grebe

Photo Credit

Pigeons and Doves

  • Rock Pigeon
  • Band-tailed Pigeon
  • Eurasian Collared-Dove
  • Inca Dove
  • Common Ground-Dove
  • White-winged Dove
  • Mourning Dove

Cuckoos and Anis

  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  • Black-billed Cuckoo
  • Groove-billed Ani


  • Common Nighthawk
  • Chuck-will’s-widow
  • Eastern Whip-poor-will


  • Chimney Swift


  • Mexican/Lesser Violetear
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Anna’s Hummingbird
  • Rufous Hummingbird
  • Allen’s Hummingbird
  • Broad-billed Hummingbird

Rails, Gallinules, and Coots

  • Yellow Rail
  • Black Rail
  • King Rail
  • Virginia Rail
  • Sora
  • Purple Gallinule
  • Common Gallinule
  • American Coot


  • Sandhill Crane
  • Whooping Crane

Stilts and Avocets

  • Black-necked Stilt
  • American Avocet

Lapwings and Plovers

  • Black-bellied Plover
  • American Golden-Plover
  • Snowy Plover
  • Wilson’s Plover
  • Semipalmated Plover
  • Piping Plover
  • Killdeer
  • Mountain Plover
Mountain Plover
Mountain Plover

Photo Credit


  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Whimbrel
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Hudsonian Godwit
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Red Knot
  • Ruff
  • Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
  • Stilt Sandpiper
  • Curlew Sandpiper
  • Sanderling
  • Dunlin
  • Purple Sandpiper
  • Baird’s Sandpiper
  • Least Sandpiper
  • White-rumped Sandpiper
  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper
  • Pectoral Sandpiper
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper
  • Western Sandpiper
  • Short-billed Dowitcher
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • American Woodcock
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Solitary Sandpiper
  • Wandering Tattler
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Willet
  • Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Red-necked Phalarope
  • Red Phalarope


  • Pomarine Jaeger
  • Parasitic Jaeger
  • Long-tailed Jaeger

Auks, Murres, and Puffins

  • Dovekie
  • Ancient Murrelet

Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers

  • Black-legged Kittiwake
  • Ivory Gull
  • Sabine’s Gull
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Black-headed Gull
  • Little Gull
  • Ross’s Gull
  • Laughing Gull
  • Franklin’s Gull
  • Black-tailed Gull
  • Mew Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • California Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Thayer’s Gull
  • Iceland Gull
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • Slaty-backed Gull
  • Glaucous-winged Gull
  • Glaucous Gull
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Sooty Tern
  • Least Tern
  • Large-billed Tern
  • Gull-billed Tern
  • Caspian Tern
  • Black Tern
  • Common Tern
  • Arctic Tern
  • Forster’s Tern
  • Royal Tern
  • Sandwich Tern
  • Black Skimmer


  • Red-throated Loon
  • Pacific Loon
  • Common Loon
  • Yellow-billed Loon
Yellow-billed Loon
Yellow-billed Loon

Photo Credit


  • Wood Stork


  • Magnificent Frigatebird


  • Northern Gannet


  • Neotropic Cormorant
  • Double-crested Cormorant


  • Anhinga


  • American White Pelican
  • Brown Pelican

Bitterns, Herons, and related

  • American Bittern
  • Least Bittern
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Tricolored Heron
  • Reddish Egret
  • Cattle Egret
  • Green Heron
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron
  • Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Ibises and Spoonbills

  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Roseate Spoonbill


  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture


  • Osprey

Hawks, Kites, Eagles, and related

  • Swallow-tailed Kite
  • White-tailed Kite
  • Mississippi Kite
  • Bald Eagle
  • Northern Harrier
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Northern Goshawk
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Swainson’s Hawk
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Rough-legged Hawk
  • Ferruginous Hawk
  • Golden Eagle


  • Barn Owl
  • Eastern Screech-Owl
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Snowy Owl
  • Northern Hawk Owl
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Long-eared Owl
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Boreal Owl
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl

Photo Credit


  • Belted Kingfisher

Woodpeckers and related

  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Williamson’s Sapsucker
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Red-cockaded Woodpecker
  • Black-backed Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Pileated Woodpecker

Caracaras and Falcons

  • American Kestrel
  • Merlin
  • Gyrfalcon
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Prairie Falcon


  • Monk Parakeet


  • White-crested/Small-billed Elaenia
  • Olive-sided Flycatcher
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee
  • Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
  • Acadian Flycatcher
  • Alder Flycatcher
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • Least Flycatcher
  • Pacific-slope/Cordilleran Flycatcher
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Vermilion Flycatcher
  • Ash-throated Flycatcher
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Tropical Kingbird
  • Western Kingbird
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Gray Kingbird
  • Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  • Fork-tailed Flycatcher
  • Northern Wheatear


  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Northern Shrike


  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Bell’s Vireo
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Philadelphia Vireo
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Red-eyed Vireo

Crows and Jays

  • Blue Jay
  • California/Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay
  • Clark’s Nutcracker
  • Black-billed Magpie
  • American Crow
  • Fish Crow
  • Common Raven


  • Horned Lark


  • Purple Martin
  • Tree Swallow
  • Violet-green Swallow
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Bank Swallow
  • Cliff Swallow
  • Cave Swallow
  • Barn Swallow

Chickadees and Titmice

  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Boreal Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse

Photo Credit


  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Brown-headed Nuthatch


  • Brown Creeper


  • Rock Wren
  • House Wren
  • Winter Wren
  • Sedge Wren
  • Marsh Wren
  • Carolina Wren
  • Bewick’s Wren


  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher


  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet


  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • Townsend’s Solitaire
  • Veery
  • Gray-cheeked Thrush
  • Swainson’s Thrush
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Wood Thrush
  • American Robin
  • Varied Thrush

Mockingbirds and Thrashers

  • Gray Catbird
  • Curve-billed Thrasher
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Sage Thrasher
  • Northern Mockingbird


  • European Starling


  • Bohemian Waxwing
  • Cedar Waxwing


  • American Pipit
  • Sprague’s Pipit

Finches and related

  • Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
  • Pine Grosbeak
  • House Finch
  • Purple Finch
  • Red Crossbill
  • White-winged Crossbill
  • Common Redpoll
  • Hoary Redpoll
  • Pine Siskin
  • American Goldfinch
  • Evening Grosbeak

Longspurs and Snow Bunting

  • Lapland Longspur
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur
  • Smith’s Longspur
  • Snow Bunting
Snow Bunting
Snow Bunting

Photo Credit


  • Ovenbird
  • Worm-eating Warbler
  • Louisiana Waterthrush
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Golden-winged Warbler
  • Blue-winged Warbler
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Swainson’s Warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Connecticut Warbler
  • MacGillivray’s Warbler
  • Mourning Warbler
  • Kentucky Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Hooded Warbler
  • American Redstart
  • Kirtland’s Warbler
  • Cape May Warbler
  • Cerulean Warbler
  • Northern Parula
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Bay-breasted Warbler
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Pine Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Yellow-throated Warbler
  • Prairie Warbler
  • Grace’s Warbler
  • Black-throated Gray Warbler
  • Townsend’s Warbler
  • Hermit Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Canada Warbler
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Yellow-breasted Chat

Towhees and Sparrows

  • Green-tailed Towhee
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Cassin’s Sparrow
  • Bachman’s Sparrow
  • American Tree Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Clay-colored Sparrow
  • Brewer’s Sparrow
  • Field Sparrow
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Black-throated Sparrow
  • Lark Bunting
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Henslow’s Sparrow
  • Le Conte’s Sparrow
  • Nelson’s Sparrow
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Harris’s Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • House Sparrow
  • Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Photo Credit

Cardinals and related

  • Hepatic Tanager
  • Summer Tanager
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Western Tanager
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Black-headed Grosbeak
  • Blue Grosbeak
  • Lazuli Bunting
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Painted Bunting
  • Dickcissel


  • Bobolink
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird
  • Rusty Blackbird
  • Brewer’s Blackbird
  • Common Grackle
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Bullock’s Oriole
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Scott’s Oriole
Scott's Oriole
Scott’s Oriole

Photo Credit

Where Are the Best Birding Hotspots in Illinois?

Here’s where the surprise comes. The best place to find the most bird species in Illinois is in “downtown” Chicago! It’s actually along the Lake Michigan lakefront at a place called Montrose Point. If you spend enough time there, you can find over 300 species of birds.

Chicago has even produced The Chicago Region Birding Trail Guide that helps you find birds throughout the metro area. It’s really quite a handy pamphlet. (Update: This document was moved or deleted from its original location. I have not located its new site, if it even exists.)

Not all the top spots are along Lake Michigan though. Check out the list below for the rest of them.

Montrose Point

Location: Lincoln Park, Chicago lakefront
Size: 1200 acres
Birds: Over 300 species
Hours: n/a
Admission: n/a
Website: http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks/montrose-beach

Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park

Location: On Lake Michigan at the Wisconsin border
Size: 4160 acres
Birds: Eastern Whip-poor-will, Red-headed Woodpecker, Willow Flycatcher, Marsh Wren, Yellow-throated Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Grasshopper Sparrow, Brewer’s Blackbird, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, Northern Goshawk
Hours: n/a
Admission: n/a
Website: DNR site

Prairie Ridge State Natural Area

Location: South of Newton
Size: n/a
Birds: Greater Prairie-Chicken, Northern Bobwhite, American Bittern, Northern Harrier, Rough-legged Hawk, King Rail, Short-eared Owl, American Kestrel, Loggerhead Shrike, Dickcissel, Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow’s Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, Smith’s Longspur, Bobolink
Hours: n/a
Admission: n/a; view from road only
Website: n/a

Dixon Waterfowl Refuge

Location: North of Peoria
Size: 3000 acres
Birds: Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelican, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Bald Eagle, Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Gallinule, Caspian Tern, Black Tern, Red-headed Woodpecker, Willow Flycatcher, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Grasshopper Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Dickcissel, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Greater White-fronted Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Tundra Swan, Northern Harrier, Short-eared Owl, sparrows
Hours: dawn to dusk
Admission: free
Website: http://www.wetlands-initiative.org/dixon-waterfowl-refuge-hh

Carlyle Lake / Eldon Hazlet State Park

Location: East of St. Louis (MO)
Size: 26,000 acres
Birds: Geese (5 species), ducks (24), grebes (4), shorebirds (31), gulls (17) including Sabine’s, Laughing, Lesser Black-backed, Iceland, and Glaucous, Black-legged Kittiwake, Little, Black-tailed, Slaty-backed, Glaucous-winged; American White Pelican, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Rough-legged Hawk
Hours: n/a
Admission: n/a
Website: n/a

Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area

Location: Southwest of Joliet
Size: 2537 acres
Birds: Northern Bobwhite, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Northern Harrier, King Rail, Virginia Rail, Sora, Sandhill Crane, Wilson’s Snipe, Willow Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Yellow-breasted Chat, Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow’s Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Dickcissel, Bobolink, ducks, Bald Eagle, Rough-legged Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Northern Shrike
Hours: n/a
Admission: n/a
Website: DNR site

Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge

Location: Southwest of Peoria
Size: 4388 acres
Birds: Canada Goose, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, White-fronted Goose, Cackling Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Tundra Swan, American Black Duck, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Willet, Hudsonian Godwit, Marbled Godwit, Baird’s Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, Bonaparte’s Gull, Franklin’s Gull, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, American White Pelican, Bald Eagle, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-headed Woodpecker, Horned Lark, Dickcissel, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sora, Peregrine Falcon, Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Hours: n/a
Admission: n/a
Website: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/chautauqua

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge

Location: Between Carbondale and Marion
Size: 44,000 acres
Birds: Canada Geese, Bald Eagle, Northern Bobwhite, Wild Turkey, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Fish Crow, Eastern Bluebird, Prothonotary Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Dickcissel
Hours: n/a
Admission: n/a
Website: n/a

Horseshoe Lake State Park

Location: Granite City, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis
Size: 2960 acres
Birds: Trumpeter Swan, Cinnamon Teal, Surf Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Sabine’s Gull, Little Gull, Iceland Gull, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Prothonotary Warblers, Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Hours: n/a
Admission: n/a
Website: n/a

Summer Tanager
Summer Tanager

Photo Credit

Cache River State Natural Area

Location: Between Marion and Paducah
Size: 14,300 acres
Birds: Wood Duck, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Black Vulture, Mississippi Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, Barred Owl, Red-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Acadian Flycatcher, Louisiana Waterthrush, Prothonotary Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Summer Tanager
Hours: n/a
Admission: n/a
Website: DNR site

Ultimate Birding in the Midwest

See more birds in the Midwest using these articles. (I realize Illinois is redundantly listed here.)

Gary Sonnenberg

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