Winnebago County offers superb opportunities for bird-watching. More than 300 bird species have been recorded in Winnebago County’s woods, rivers, lakes and prairies, many of them easily seen from a car, during an easy stroll, or even in your own backyard!

See the printable Birding Checklist for Winnebago County for a comprehensive listing of all the species that have been documented.

Local Birding Social Media Groups:


Simple Migration Bird Guide

Looking for a simple bird guide that you can print out and take with you? Try using our Migration Bird Guide. This guide shows some birds you may only see during migration, but many of the birds on this pamphlet stay in the area year-round! 

Birdwatching Observation Sites

The 10,300 acres of woodlands, prairies, rivers, and marshes protected and managed by the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District provide convenient, safe and fascinating opportunities for year-round birding adventures.

Colored Sands Forest Preserve

Watch the utility wires for Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows as you drive past 80 acres of restored little bluestem prairie to Colored Sands Forest Preserve at the northern extreme of the county, one of the premier bird-watching spots in northern Illinois. Home of Sand Bluff Bird Observatory since 1967, the preserve’s many different habitats have been enhanced by intensive prairie restoration efforts by the Forest Preserve District. Be sure to check in at the banding station on weekends from March to the end of May, from late August to the end of November, to make sure you don’t disturb banding and hawk trapping programs

Cape May Warbler Kayla Lindquist Photography

Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve

Enter Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve from the parking lot on Perryville Road, just north of Blackhawk Road. In the spring, walk the (paved) path into the preserve, stopping on the bridge to scan the brush on either side for warblers. In April, scan the meadows and brushy edges for White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, while keeping an eye to the sky for Red-tailed and Coopers’ Hawks. Continue on the (unpaved) side path through the woods to the springs for which the preserve is named and watch for thrushes, orioles and tanagers. The tangled, wet areas around the springs themselves provide cover, food and watering places for all the woodland warblers, vireos and wrens.

Henslow’s Sparrow Kayla Lindquist Photography 

Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden

Klehm Forest Preserve at the southern edge of Rockford is a perfect place to take a quick bird watching journey to the country without leaving town. Positioned at the base of the stone bluff that keeps the Rock River running south before it can turn west toward the Mississippi River, Klehm’s deep woods and tangled edges provide the safe haven woodland migrants require in their journeys to and from the north, and just about every woodland migrant that comes to the county stops there. Two paved paths and innumerable twisty, chip-covered trails through fruit trees, blooming hedges and dense oaks bring colorful migrating warblers down to a reasonable viewing level. Expect to see Indigo Buntings, Gray Catbirds, Wood Thrushes, Cedar Waxwings by the score (year round) and Ruby and Golden-crowned Kinglets and Gray-cheeked Thrushes (April). Among rare species that have been seen in the preserve are Northern Goshawk, Merlin and a Townsend’s Solitaire.

Common Yellowthroat Warbler Kayla Lindquist Photography

Carl and Myrna Nygren Wetland Preserve

Carl and Myrna Nygren Wetland Preserve is a gorgeous restored habitat that is home to many fascinating birds. The Natural Land Institute has restored prairies, woodlands and wetlands to this beautiful land west of Rockton along Raccoon Creek and the Rock and Pecatonica rivers. Birds, including migrating waterfowl and songbirds, have returned in abundance. Wood Ducks, Chimney Swifts, Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, Belted Kingfishers, Red-Headed Woodpeckers, Sandhill Cranes, and American White Pelicans, or only a tiny fraction of the birds that have been seen at this preserve.

Sugar River Forest Preserve

Sugar River Forest Preserve, one mile south of Colored Sands, also has a variety of habitats. As you enter the preserve, turn right to the shelter house where huge sycamores around the parking lot provide the only nesting spot in the county for nesting Yellow-throated Warblers. Take the loop road to the canoe launch and picnic area and watch the flooded areas for Louisiana Waterthrushes, or walk north along the river from the picnic grounds to prairie areas for Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Warblers.

Red Bellied Woodpecker Kayla Lindquist Photography

Severson Dells Nature Center

Severson Dells Forest Preserve, southwest of Rockford has upland and lowland woods as well as marshy meadows. Park at the nature center to pick up your Birding Checklist for Winnebago County and take a peek at the many bird feeders around the building. You can observe with binoculars from the inside birding room, or enjoy the view from a bench outside. The nature center store sells bird books and other nature items, and keeps a log of birds seen on the property.  A large variety of birds are active at Severson throughout the year. Enjoy a walk on the paved path through the woods, past the pond, along the Hall Creek, and around the prairie. Nest boxes for Eastern Bluebirds, Wood Ducks, and Bats are found through the preserve.

Barred Owl Kayla Lindquist Photography

Nature at the Confluence- South Beloit

The Rock River Birding Trail opened in August 2020. It is bordered by Kelly Creek, Turtle Creek and the Rock River. Part of the trail is along a river bottom and can be muddy in the wet season. It is a rustic trail that offers a wonderful view of Boney Island, where a pair of bald eagles nests. Note: the nest was destroyed in a wind storm in 2021 (no eagles were harmed). We are waiting to see if the eagles rebuild their nest in the spring of 2022. During the spring and fall migration, millions of birds, from tiny warblers to giant white pelicans, make their way along the Rock River flyway.

Eagle Kayla Lindquist Photography

Winter Birding

A few birds don’t migrate but are here to observe all through the cold months of the year. Look closely and you’ll find them. Chickadees and cardinals are here all winter long. There are over thirty different species of birds that can commonly be viewed throughout the colder months when it is easier to spot birds and study them without obstruction. Local birders look forward to the winter season so they can find northern species that that are not here during other times of the year. Great spots for bird watching are along the rivers, especially when part of the water is frozen, but enough is open to provide food and water for the birds. Look for areas of good cover and trees with seeds for the birds.  Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden is a good bet because of the many fruit trees that provide necessary survival nutrition for birds. Some of the top winter birding locations are Rock Cut State Park, Severson Dells Forest Preserve, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Oak Ridge Forest Preserve, Nygren Wetland Preserve, and Aldeen Park.


Translate »