Birding in the County

New and experienced birders can enjoy this fun and versatile year-round activity while exploring the Forest Preserves. Check out our favorite places to see birds, and examples of the birds you can find here, as well as pointers on where to find them!

Our thanks to the volunteers of Champaign County Audubon Society who helped make this information possible! Enjoy!

Favorite Place to See Birds

Homer Lake: 

  •  Bird feeders at the Homer Lake Interpretive Center
  • Walnut Hill shelter area (lots of oaks here), and below the spillway nearby along the river are great for seeing warblers during migration
  • Collins Pond

Lake of the Woods:

  • Rayburn-Purnell Woods
  • Stidham Pond
  • Area near the Izaak Walton cabin and the trail along the river from there to the bridge

Middle Fork River:

  • North Waterfowl Management Area
  • Point Pleasant Wetland

River Bend:

  • Sunset Lake and the trails

Sangamon River:

  • Savanna and prairie restoration areas, and along the river

Kickapoo Rail Trail:

  • Salt Fork River crossing
  • Wetland near the trail in St Joseph
  • Future hotspots to be determined as work continues to extend the trail

Bird Checklist

Want to keep track of what you see on your visit? Use our Bird Checklist.


Birds & Where to Find Them

Waterfowl & Shorebirds

A wide variety of waterfowl and shorebirds can be seen on or around lakes, ponds, rivers, and wetlands in the preserves. At River Bend, Sunset Lake typically stays unfrozen in winter because it is so deep; as a result it is a great place to see migrating waterfowl in late winter.

Photo:  Jeff Bryant


Sandhill Cranes are a common migrant through Champaign County in early spring, and sometimes a pair nests in the area. Some years, even Whooping Cranes migrate through this area and stop over at remote habitats in the preserves.

Photo: Dan McHale

Wild Turkey

These secretive birds have been observed at both Homer Lake and Sangamon River Forest Preserves, and are likely present at others as well.

Photo: Courtney Celley/USFWS

Northern Bobwhite

These birds have been heard singing at Sangamon River Forest Preserve.


Osprey have been spotted fishing at Homer Lake Forest Preserve outside of the nesting season. There is a nesting platform at the north end of the lake intended for Osprey, and we hope that someday a pair will choose to use it.

Photo: Jeff Bryant

Bald Eagle

Our nation’s symbol is now fairly common in Champaign County, with several pairs nesting in east-central Illinois. They have been observed at all six forest preserve sites.

Photo: Jeff Bryant


Several owl species can be found in or near Forest Preserve properties, particularly in wooded areas and pine tree stands. Great-Horned Owls, Barred Owls, and Screech Owls nest in this area. In the winter, Saw-whet Owls, Short-Eared Owls, and occasionally Long-eared or Snowy Owls can be found in or near the preserves.

Photo: Jeff Bryant

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

These birds are more often heard than seen – listen for their unique hollow, wooden-sounding ‘song’ in forested areas.

Photo: Jeff Bryant

Red-Headed Woodpecker

These vibrant birds are common visitors at the Homer Lake Interpretive Center’s birdfeeders at Homer Lake Forest Preserve.

Photo: Jim Hudgins/USFWS

Pileated Woodpecker

These birds can be found in any mature forested areas. They have been recorded during the breeding season at River Bend and Homer Lake, and are likely present at other preserves as well.

Photo: Jim Hudgins/USFWS

Chimney Swift

Chimney Swifts can be found at all Forest preserve sites, but perhaps the most reliable place to see them is around the Museum of the Grand Prairie at Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve. Listen for their distinctive, high-pitched chattering calls as they forage on the wing.

Photo: Shawn Taylor


Cliff Swallows build their mud nests each year under the spillway bridge at Homer Lake Forest Preserve. Bank Swallows nest at River Bend. Barn Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and Tree Swallows can be seen at any of the forest preserves.

Photo: Don DeBold

Eastern Bluebird

Look for these beautiful birds during the breeding season near the nest boxes at Homer Lake, Lake of the Woods, River Bend, and Middle Fork River Forest Preserves. Some years, they can be found even in winter at the preserves.

Photo: Jeff Bryant

Wood Thrush

These beautiful singers are often heard around the Elks Lake Pavilion at Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve, as well as any other wooded area at the preserves.

Photo: Nate Rathbun/USFWS

Loggerhead Shrike

These birds are rare and declining, but they have occasionally been sighted in shrubby areas at Middle Fork River Forest Preserve.

Photo: Diana Robinson


Spring and fall migration season is a great time to see warblers. Some of our favorite spots are: Homer Lake Forest Preserve (the Walnut Hill shelter area, and below the spillway nearby along the river), and at River Bend (where Yellow-breasted Chats have been observed).

Photo: Jeff Bryant

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeaks have been spotted at Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve (Buffalo Trace Prairie), River Bend Forest Preserve, and Sangamon River Forest Preserve. They are a bird of shrubby habitats, and can be hard to find unless you hear them singing first. They look similar to Indigo Buntings, so if you see a flash of blue take a closer look! (Photo: Jeff Bryant)


These birds can be found in prairie areas at any of the preserves. Listen for their distinctive song to help spot them.

Photo: Grayson Smith/USFWS

Other Things That Fly

These are not birds of course, but they fly! We thought that, since you’re headed out to the preserves anyway to look for flying things, you might be interested in checking out these other creatures.


A colony of bats (mostly Big Brown Bats) hangs out in the center beam area of the Covered Bridge at Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve. Be safe when observing by staying in the pedestrian areas; the road is active and cars drive through frequently.


Out looking for birds? Dragonflies are a great new challenge! Many thanks to Doug Mills for this guide to dragonflies at Point Pleasant wetland at Middle Fork River Forest Preserve.

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