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Chicago Bird Sanctuary is Best Place in State to See Spring Migration


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Millions of birds pass over Chicago each spring. As they migrate north, they follow the shore of Lake Michigan and look for a place to stop for rest and food. Much of Illinois has disappointed them by offering mostly farmland, so any natural areas along the lake are a welcome and necessary respite.

Widely considered the best place in Illinois to view spring migration is the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, a 13-acre promontory on Chicago’s North Side. Once a Nike missile base, it has been carefully developed as a habitat that offers many species of migrating birds the food and protection they need before continuing north.

I had the good fortune to visit the Chicago Park District sanctuary with longtime Chicago photographer Rob Curtis and bird habitat expert Judy Pollock. On that early Monday morning, more than 100 species of birds were spotted by dozens of birders, some of whom were visiting from as far away as Virginia, Belgium and Cuba.

If you are new to birding, Pollock offers some suggestions for how to get started. “First,” she says, “join a few bird clubs and go on field trips.”

One option is the Chicago Audubon Society. Facebook groups are also a helpful guide to birding destinations and events, like the Illinois Birding Network’s page.

Pollock started birding at Montrose in the late ‘80s and says she found experienced birders were eager to teach. “But Montrose isn’t the only place on the lakefront for spring migration,” she says. She points to Jackson Park and the Calumet region as other areas that see many species pass through.

She is also an unabashed bird evangelist. “Birding is a great connection to nature for people who live in cities” she says. “There is so much to see and learn, and it can really be a lifelong pursuit.” 

Other birding resources:

• BirdCast, a website that uses radar to track and predict bird migration
• Illinois Birders Forum
Bird Conservation Network
• The Chicago Region “Birding Trail Guide”  

Note: This story first aired on May 24, 2017. It has been updated.


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