Birds of Illinois

A wide array of bird species can be found in Illinois. Over 450 species are recorded by the local bird committee, covering year-round residents and seasonal visitors. Birds of Illinois are quite similar to the birds found in other Great Lake regions such as Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The list of birds found in Illinois include waterfowls, woodpecker, and cuckoos family. Birders can also watch hummingbirds and cranes as well as shorebirds such as sandpiper and woodcock. Here are 15 highlighted birds to make your day more amazing.

Black-Billed Cuckoo

Birds of Illinois

The black-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus) is a bird which can be seen in most regions in the US including Illinois. The New World species has distinctive black, down curved bill and red circle around the eyes. The brown upperparts and white underparts also become the characteristic of this bird.

Birders can find the black-billed cuckoo in several habitats such as the edges of mature forests and young forests. Wetlands and open areas such as farmlands and golf courses are also good location to see cuckoos. And yet, they are typically shy and like to hide.

The cuckoos forage in the thickets and shrubs to hunt insects. They also feed on berries, eggs of other birds, and snails. During the breeding season, the black-billed cuckoo can be easily found throughout the United States especially in the east of Rocky Mountains.

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Birds of Illinois

The yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) is among highlighted birds of Illinois to attract birders. Also known as rain crow in the southern US, the bird is identified by its yellow mandible, brown upper plumages and white underparts. It also has distinctive long tail without red circle around the eyes.

The population of yellow-billed cuckoo declines, especially in North America. Their habitat ranges from Southern Canada to Mexico and they prefer deciduous forests instead of open areas. They can be found in shrubs and trees where they can nest or find food.

Oftentimes, these birds forage in shrubs and trees that provide plentiful insects and caterpillars. These birds feed on lizards, berries, and eggs of other birds though cicadas also become their main preys.

Groove-Billed Ani

Birds of Illinois

Another bird species from cuckoo family to watch in Illinois is the groove-billed ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris). This tropical bird is characterized by fully black plumage with slight brown highlights on its long tail. The curved beak is the most interesting feature of the bird which makes it similar to smooth-billed ani.

The groove-billed, as with other anis, prefer open areas such as savanna, orchards, and pastures. Their range include southern Texas, Central America, and also Colombia. During winter, they retreat and migrate to warmer regions.

Like other species in cuckoo family, the groove-billed ani feeds on a mixed diet including fruits, insects, and seeds. They are often found in small groups with their breeding pairs. The birds also have communal nest which they protect and defend.

Pileated Woodpecker

Birds of Illinois

Deciduous forests in the Great Lake state is home to the pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). The woodpecker is native to North America and it also inhabits forests in Illinois, Michigan, and neighboring regions. It has a large body yet it is slightly smaller than the ivory-billed woodpecker.

This one of birds of Illinois has distinctive red crest on the head. Their plumages are mainly black with white line. White underparts on their wings allow birders to identify this species even if they are in flight. To distinguish the sex, male has red line down from the bill to the throat while female has black line.

Birders can easily find these woodpeckers in mature forests and wooded parks. They spread throughout the Great Lake states and the northeastern US. They forage on the trees for insects, beetle larvae, and ants. They also feed on nuts, berries, and mixed fruits.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Birds of Illinois

Another woodpecker species that can be found in Illinois is the yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius). It breeds in Canada and other regions in northeastern United States but birders in Illinois can watch this woodpecker as well.

The male has a bright red patch on the head and the female has a lighter shade of red. The bird also has black and white line down the throat with brown markings on white underparts. Birders can also distinguish the sexes from the throat and chin. Both parts are red in the male and white in the female.

During winter, these woodpeckers migrate to eastern United States with warmer climate. They breed in deciduous forests in the altitude of up to 6,600 feet. The yellow-bellied sapsucker feed on mixed diets such as tree sap, fruits, and arthropods. They also eat berries and nuts.

Eastern Screech Owl

Birds of Illinois

Local birders in Illinois or visitors can find the eastern screech owl (Megascops asio) in the state. This one of birds of Illinois requires more effort to watch due to nocturnal habits. The screech owl can be identified by its stocky body, rusty plumage and streaking underparts that give them excellent camouflage.

These owls prefer woodlands, parklands, and deciduous forests as their habitats. Some of them also inhabit wetlands, meadow, and fields where they can avoid larger owls. Interestingly, screech owl can live in heavily developed areas.

The owls spend their day in cavities and hunt preys at night. They feed on large insects such as beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and moths particularly during the breeding season. Young rabbits and other small mammals also become their regular preys.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Birds of Illinois

The northern saw-whet owl with scientific name Aegolius acadicus is a charming nocturnal bird to watch around the state. The tiny bird with distinctive plumage is a winter visitor with mysterious characteristics so birders need to take more effort to observe the saw-whet owl.

Some birds continue their flight to other region, while some others stay for months. The bird is dominated by brown and white all around the body. This plumage variation allows them to camouflage excellently at day and night. These owls also have rusty, light facial disc around its eyes.

Finding these birds of Illinois are not easy but you always have clues to help. After eating, the saw-whet owls cough up bone and fur of their preys. Whenever you find these clues, the owls may peer down at you. Local birders can find these owls in Morton Arboretum and Eldon Hazlet State Park.

Smith’s Longspur

Birds of Illinois

During March and April, birders throughout Illinois can find the smith’s longspur (Calcarius pictus). The secretive longspur has a black crown and golden-orange underparts as their breeding plumage. This plumage variation allows them to camouflage in the thickets and shrubs.

The smith’s longspurs mainly feed on seeds, especially foxtail seeds during their breeding migration through Illinois. It makes no surprise that flocks of longspurs can be found in farmlands where abundant foxtail remnants can be found, especially when the fields are not sprayed with pesticides.

These birds rarely mingle with Lapland longspur, the more common species of longspurs or other birds in Illinois. Though you might find them in the same fields, they won’t be in the same flock. If you want to birdwatch the smith’s longspur, make sure it’s in April.

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Blackburnian Warbler

Birds of Illinois

Birders have been intrigued by the blackburnian warbler (Setophaga fusca) which has beautiful plumage and coloration. The black patch on the head as well as vibrant orange plumage on the throat and breast makes it easy to distinguish even when it flocks with other warblers, chickadees, or nuthatches.

The blackburnian warbler visits Illinois during migration in May. Birders can also watch these birds in September when they head for South America during winter. And yet, the male loses his beautiful and striking plumage, requires more struggle to identify this species.

Warblers are songbirds and the blackburnian is no exception. They are often seen perching and singing on the tree. These birds feed on insects and larvae, especially during the breeding season. Their habitats include woodlands and spruce-fir forests.


Birds of Illinois

Illinois birders are always excited to watch bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) perching and singing. It has attractive plumage with black front parts and yellow crown on the nape. The white back contrasts its black belly and throat, allowing birders to recognize the bird easily.

The bobolink prefers hayfields and grassy meadows as their habitats. The female has grass-like coloration that allows her to camouflage on the ground. During the breeding seasons, the female feed on small insects and seeds.

Illinoisan birders can see these small to medium-sized birds at the Orland Grassland during spring through fall. This restoration project helps bobolinks to breed so the population decline can be prevented. You can also visit Midewin National Tallgrass to watch these birds.

Prothonotary Warbler

Birds of Illinois

The prothonotary warbler (Protonotaria citrea) is among birds of Illinois with adorable, vibrant plumage. Commonly found in the swamplands of southern part of the state, this warbler forages and perches while singing during spring and summer. In September, prothonotaries has left for their home.

The male has golden-yellow head and underparts. The blueish wings and greenish back makes it a favorite among birders. The female prothonotary warbler has lighter plumage with blueish tails. The female nests in natural and artificial cavities, including tree hole made by woodpecker.

Prothonotaries’ habitats include wooded swamps and cypress swamps. They also prefer river backwaters than fast flowing bodies or water. In Illinois, you can seek after these birds in the following sites:

  • Cypress Creek
  • Pine Hills
  • McHenry Dam

Monk Parakeet

Birds of Illinois

Parrots are among bird types to watch in Illinois, in which two species have been listed as birds of Illinois including monk parakeet and Carolina parakeet. Though the Carolina parakeet is already extinct, birders still have chances to observe monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus).

This parakeet is native to South American and travels to some regions throughout the US, including Illinois. Today, the state successfully breeds monk parakeets so birders can enjoy watching it. The bird has distinctive green back and dusty white throat. It also intriguing blue wings and yellowish green belly.

The parakeets mainly feed on berries though they also take food from feeders. During winter, they build nests made of grass and sticks to keep themselves warm. There are some best places to observe this bird in Illinois, such as Jackson Park and Hyde Park.

Greater Prairie Chicken

Birds of Illinois

The greater prairie chicken is among birds of Illinois with endangered status. During courtship season, the males show spectacular courtship dance by lowering their wings, lifting tails, and inflate vibrant air sacs. Aside from attracting nearby females, they also declare dominance over other males.

The prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) has barred brown back and buff belly. The black tail-end and long ear tufts make their courtship dance more adorable. As the name implies, this chicken were originally live in tallgrass prairies and agricultural area.

The greater prairie chickens were a popular game bird and millions of them can be found in Illinois. But fast population decline insisted the officials to save them from extinction and now they can be found in managed prairie lands.

Mississippi Kite

Birds of Illinois

Several decades ago, the Mississippi kite (Ictinia mississippiensis) was widespread throughout Illinois. But now, birders need to head for the southern part of the state only to watch these birds during breeding season. It ranges from April through September before they return to South America.

The adult raptor has dark gray back and lighter underparts. The long, dark tail makes it look graceful when perching on the vantage point. Juvenile birds have darkish brown with streaks on their underparts.

Mississippi kites feed on insects, lizards or bats in flight. There are some good places to observe these kites such as Fort Kaskaskia and Union County Conservation Area.

American White Pelican

Birds of Illinois

The last birds of Illinois are large water birds with their distinctive beak. Two species have been recorded, one of which is the American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos). The pelicans migrate through the state and feed on lakes or large water reservoirs.

The water bird has bright white plumage with long, orange bill. The throat pouch is a distinctive feature that makes these pelicans worth-watching especially when they are fishing.

Illinois offers hundreds of bird species to watch and observe. The Great Lake state has supportive habitats and environments for many kinds of bird, allowing them to stay or migrate to this Midwestern region of the US.

Sometimes, when people ask what I do to make a living, I can't think of a better word than "writer". I am a student, web maker, writer, bird lover ... and many more.

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