Whether you are looking for a casual Sunday afternoon in nature with your family or you are seeking to add that rare Hudsonian Godwit to your life list, the Illinois River Road is one of the most important bird migration routes in the Midwest! Eighty percent of the waterfowl who follow the Mississippi Flyway stop to rest and refuel in the backwater sloughs of the Illinois River. With more than 100 miles of contiguous forests along the bluffs there are dozens of species of woodland warblers. Shorebirds stop off on their annual flights from the north shores of the Arctic to the southern tip of South America. From small county parks that harbor nesting vireos to one of the largest wetland restoration efforts in American history where hundreds of great white pelicans feed, there is something here for all levels of birding!
Annual Birding Events
Every year several communities along the Illinois River Road host special events that allow you to go on a guided bird watching hike, help to band a hummingbird or tour the river with a local expert looking for eagles. Here are a few of the more popular annual festivals:
Local chapters of both the National Audubon Society and the Illinois Audubon Society work together with other environmental organizations to host and organize Eagle watching events, often with live bird of prey shows, storytelling, music, guided tours and talks by pre-eminent ornithologists. Always fun, family oriented events! With annual Bald Eagle events occurring in Utica, Chillicothe, Lewistown, Havana, Henry and other Byway communities, you're sure to spot Bald Eagles, as well as informative educational programs along your journey. Please check the Illinois River Road Event Calendar or Illinois Audubon Society for details.
The Illinois Audubon Society sponsors several hummingbird festivals throughout the state. This is a chance to see these winged jewels up close and learn more about feeding stations, migration and planting hummingbird/butterfly gardens. These are annual events held in mid to late August. Both Starved Rock State Park in Utica and Forest Park Nature Center in Peoria are hosts to annual hummingbird festivals each August. Please check the Illinois River Road Event Calendar or Illinois Audubon Society for details.
Illinois Audubon Society
The Illinois Audubon Society is the oldest environmental organization in the state. They host a wide variety of field trips and educational programs and helped to research and develop this birding map!
Cornell Labs at Cornell University
Cornell Labs at Cornell University is a great resource for learning more about individual birds, birding basics, bird ID and getting involved in bird watching - the fastest growing sport in America! They also sponsor several citizen science projects in which you can help monitor and protect bird populations, including the Great Backyard Bird Count and Project Feeder Watch.
No bird watcher should leave home without the Illinois Atlas and Gazeteer maps by DeLorme. These include every little county road, all parks and the local topography. It is also recommended that you pick up a copy of Birding Illinois by Sheryl DeVore, (A Falcon Guide, Helena, MT 2000) Illinois Audubon Society.