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January 2019: Winter Bird Watching

A black and white photograph of a group of people in the forest. They are using binoculars to look at the sky, presumably looking at a bird.


Because of its geography and variety of habitats, Northern Illinois hosts hundreds of species of birds. While many birds migrate to warmer climates during the colder months, there are a number of northern bird species that consider Northern Illinois a winter destination (Schietzelt, n.d.). 

Because of the Arboretum’s abundance of conifers and other seed-bearing plants, it is an excellent destination for winter birding (Carpenter & Greenberg, 1999).


Winter is the time that many northern owl species can be observed traveling into Illinois in search of food (De Vore & Thompson, 2018). Most commonly seen at The Morton Arboretum is the Northern Saw-Whet Owl (De Vore & Thompson, 2018). Owls are known to roost in the  evergreens, which can be found in various locations throughout the Arboretum.


A photograph of a fluffly brown and white Northern saw whet owl. The owl is perched in a bright green evergreen tree.

This photograph is of a Northern Saw-Whet Owl, taken at The Morton Arboretum in 2010 by Jay Sturner.


Evergreens and alders are also known to attract winter finches, specifically the Purple Finches, Red and White Winged Crossbills, Pine Siskins, and Evening Grosbeaks (Carpenter, Greenberg, 1999). 

A Purple Finch is a white belly, black feathers, and reddish/purple head sitting on a bare branch with the blue sky in the background.

Purple Finch photograph by Andrew Cannizzaro.

It is not uncommon to see waterfowl around the Arboretum. And while they are here on a year-round basis, they populate good concentrations of open water on Arboretum lakes during the winter (Swink, 1976). When portions of Arboretum lakes remain unfrozen, it is typical to see Green-Winged Teal, Common Goldeneye, and other ducks inhabiting the water.


A green winged teal duck that is mostly different shades of brown but with one bright green feather. The duck is standing on rocks in the water.
Green-Winged Teal duck photographed by the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.


Canada Geese are also frequently seen in and around Arboretum lakes and open, grassy areas around the Arboretum.

A black and white Canada goose flying low to the snow covered ground. It's wings are nearly touching the snow.
A Canada Goose photographed by Chuck Szmurlo.

As of 2011, over 250 species of birds have been observed at The Morton Arboretum. Because the Arboretum is such a bird hotspot, the Sterling Morton Library has a variety of resources to help anyone interested in birding or just learning more about birds in general.


Birding/Bird Watching
Birding for Beginners : A Comprehensive Introduction To The Art Of Birdwatching by Sheila Buff and Richard Day*
A birder's guide to the Chicago Region by Lynne Carpenter and Joel Greenberg
A bird watcher's handbook : field ornithology for backyard naturalists by Laura O’Biso Socha
The Bird Watching Answer Book : Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Birds in Your Backyard and Beyond by Laura Erickson*
Birdwatching with American women : a selection of nature writings by Deborah Strom
Neighbors to the birds : a history of birdwatching in America by Felton Gibbons
Pete Dunne on bird watching : the how-to, where-to, and when-to of birding by Pete Dunne
Sibley's birding basics by David Sibley

Birds of the Chicago Metropolitan Area
The birds of Illinois by David Bohlen
The birds of Indiana : a descriptive catalog of the birds that have been observed within the state, with an account of their habits by Amos Butler
Birds of the Indiana Dunes by Kenneth Brock
Birds of The Morton Arboretum by Floyd Swink
A Finding List of the Birds of The Morton Arboretum by Floyd Swink

Attracting birds to your garden by Sunset Books
Birdscaping in the Midwest : a guide to gardening with native plants to attract birds by Mariette Nowak
National Audubon Society North American birdfeeder handbook by Robert Burton

Birds : the art of ornithology by Jonathan Elphick
Handbook of North American birds by Ralph Palmer
The genius of birds by Jennifer Ackerman
The Sibley guide to birds by David Sibley
Why Birds Matter : Avian Ecological Function and Ecosystem Services by Çagan H. Sekercioglu, Daniel G. Wenny, and Christopher J. Whelan*

For additional resources, feel free to visit our resource guide: Library resources on birding and ornithology.

*Access the Library’s e-book collection by entering the number on the back of your Sterling Morton Library card.


If you are interested in a more hands-on experience, consider one of the Arboretum’s programs!

Beginning Bird Watching course
Bird Walks course
Early Spring Migration: Birds on the Move course
Valentine for the Birds program
Become a volunteer and help Monitor!



Carpenter, L. and Greenberg, J. (1999). A Birder’s Guide to the Chicago Region. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press.

De Vore, S. and Thompson, D.  (2018). Birds of Illinois: winter. Bird Watcher's Digest. Retrieved from: https://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/explore/regions/midwest/illin...

Schietzelt, R. (n.d.). Winter bird watching. McHenry County Living. Retrieved from: https://mchenrycountyliving.com/birds-of-a-feather-winter-bird-watching/

Swink F. (1976). A Finding List of Birds at The Morton Arboretum. Lisle, IL:The Morton Arboretum. Retrieved from: https://acorn.mortonarb.org/Detail/objects/59052