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Lakefront Bird Habitat Guidelines and the Chicago Lakefront Birding Trail

This page is presented by the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, its Parks Committee and website Join the Conference!

Chicago Lakefront Birding Trail map/sign

A citywide Task Force of Chicago, Chicago Park District, Friends of the Parks and several park advisory councils (including Jackson and South Shore) and birding/conservation groups met in 2001 to develop local implementation guidelines for the International Migratory Bird Treaty of March, 2000, which was adopted by Chicago. Here is the document they produced. Note that there is a new Guide to Chicago Region Bird Trails many bird groups worked to produce with the City.

Chicago's Lakefront: Important Bird Habitat

The Chicago Lakefront on the southwest shore of Lake Michigan plays a major role in providing habitat for millions of migratory birds. In the last century and a half, the conversion of much of the adjoining land to agriculture and urban uses has only increased the importance of the lakefront open space with its canopy of trees and shrubs.

The city of Chicago recognized these facts with the signing of the "Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds" with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on March 25, 2000. This treaty commits USFWS to a long-term partnership with the City of Chicago and its conservation partners, including the Chicago Park District and citizen conservation groups, for the benefit of migratory birds.

Chicago Park District Adopts Bird Habitat Guidelines

The Chicago Park District worked with Friends of the Parks, other open space and conservation organizations and park advisory councils to develop guidelines for the lakefront as a crucial stopover point for migratory birds, The Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners adopted "Lakefront Bird Habitat Guidelines." These guidelines are being used by the District, its contractors and subcontractors, to protect and promote bird habitat in Chicago's lakefront parks.


Inventory and Planning of Bird Habitat Areas

Examine existing and proposed landscaping in terms of promoting bird habitat.

Design landscaping with plant species which are bird friendly, i.e. provide shelter, nesting material, food sources (berries, seeds, and nectar).

Design with low maintenance and drought-resistant native species of plantings.

Design more diverse habitats, such as open savannah, woodlands, and shoreline dunes.

Design multi-layered landscapes, perennials, shrubs, under-story trees, and canopy trees.

Use a variety of plants, especially native and those that leaf out and flower across a wide range of dates.

Design water edges with aquatic and riparian species and naturalistic wetland and upland plantings.

Design plantings for year-round seasonal value for bird habitat.

Design water supply for landscape maintenance and necessary sources of water for birds.

Work with golf course managers to introduce more native landscape into the "rough" & along the edges.

Design new facilities to eliminate or minimize hazards to migratory and nesting birds.

Design landscape construction to avoid or mitigate bird-adverse techniques, such as erosion netting.

Mitigate bird-adverse conditions in structures through landscaping design or other appropriate means


Management and Maintenance of Bird habitat Areas

Develop holistic and seasonal management plan for bird habitat areas according to inventory delineation

Develop and disseminate maps of significant habitat areas, surrounding buffer zones, and "no-mow" areas.

Integrate habitat guidelines into land use rules and requirements, e.g. park use permits, construction permits.

Coordinate with other government' and non-governmental organizations' planning efforts and projects to promote bird habitat.

Adopt sequenced schedule to protect bird habitat during landscape renovation.

Develop explanatory system of signage.

develop a public information /educational program about habitat management.

Develop a cooperative program of public involvement and stewardship, including volunteer stewards.

Co-ordinate garbage and litter collection to reduce habitat disturbances.

Use Integrated Pest Management Program under CPD Landscape Management Plan, according to designated inventory level.

Develop maintenance program according to inventory level for all bird habitat areas.

Conduct less intense clean-up program of natural areas and retain fallen trees for habitat, where appropriate.

Devise best-management mowing and pruning practices and schedule which preserve and enhance habitat.

Design appropriate "no-mow" areas.

Delay first mowing in and adjacent to habitat areas, whenever possible, to June 1.

Set mowing blades at minimum of 3" high.

Use grass-cutting & pruning equipment with special care to avoid damage to trees. Prune trees and shrubs to emphasize natural form and use as habitat.


"Significant bird habitat areas" are defined as those areas of Chicago's lakefront which large numbers of migratory birds use to find food and shelter."


Other bird-friendly practices in Chicago

Part of the peregrine restoration program until its successful conclusion in 1999.
"Lights Out" since 1999- buildings esp in Loop encouraged to shut lights off at 11 pm.

Chicago Wilderness coalition of 160 groups.


The Chicago Lakefront Birding Trail

Chicago supports over 300 species of birds, from native to migratory to rare.

Traveling thousands of miles, from Amazon, Arctic or Tundra, migrating birds seek places to rest, hide, and refuel. Parks and nature sanctuaries with their trees, shrubs, grass, lagoons, offer water, shelter, insects, berries, seeds , blossoms, more. Lake Michigan and inland waters provide food for many birds, and so do shopping areas, beaches and parking lots. However, the long and nearly unbroken stretch of open space along the lake is the key to survival of the migratory birds.

Best seasons, days, times, places

Migration peaks in spring and fall. They're brighter and easier to see in spring but more abundant in fall!

Best days? after southwest winds in spring and northwest in fall.

Times? Early morning for long-distance songbirds, shorebirds, some waterfowl--they're traveling at night and come down at dawn to gardens, parks , woods.

Hawks and falcons mount on daytime thermals. Swallows, swifts, nighthawks migrate by day or dusk feeding on flying insects.

Best places per season? Depends on whether you're looking for numbers, variety consistently, or interesting birds occasionally.

Spring-summer-fall: Montrose, Point, Jarvis, North Pond, Douglas (Wooded Island in Jackson).
Winter: Montrose Harbor and Dune, Calumet.

Best Bet by species

Songbirds (warbler, sparrow, tanager, vireo, flycatcher, thrush: early morning on lakefront; wooded areas later in day.
Mid April, October for sparrows, kinglets, creepers, phoebes, sapsuckers.
May for warblers, orioles, tanagers (all duller in September).
August for swallow flocks

Waterfowl, other divers
Winterers on the Lake as long as ice-free: diving ducks incl. mergansers."
Late March and April, October and early Nov. early morning esp.: migrating flocks of duck, loons, grebes, some dabbling ducks

Gulls and terns
Many stop over January-March, others through summer, best early morning.

April-May, July-October for 30 species of plovers, sandpipers... Morning with empty beaches.

Raptors (falcons, hawks, owls, osprey) Peaks in October early or mid morning. (Occasional snowy owl at Montrose or Northerly in winter.

Wading birds (herons, egrets, bittern)
Starts in March. Summer: black-crowned night-herons often early morning but any time.

Warblers (36 species)
Connecticut 3rd week of May esp. Montrose and seneca

Diving ducks (27 species scoters, mergansers, scaup)
Late fall, winter, early spring

Wintering gulls (Thayer's Iceland, gaucous)

Grassland birds.
Just pass over now: owls follow lake in April, October. Late April Henslow's and grasshopper sparrows, bobolinks in May.


Lakefront Birding Trail map, CPD and others. Jackson Park (Wooded I, lagoons, Bobolink are jjst to the upper right of the key box. Above jackson are Promontory and Burnham Nature Path; below are South Shoe, Rainbow, and Calumet River and Park.