What kinds of birds can you find in Chicago, Illinois?
Despite being a large city, I think you would be surprised at the number of species that you can find in downtown Chicago and the surrounding areas. Many types of birds can adapt to the presence of humans, even building nests and raising their babies in close proximity.
In addition, there are other parks and green spaces that offer hiding spaces for shy birds.
Below, you will learn the TEN most common birds that are found around Chicago!
#1. Canada Goose
- Branta canadensis
- Large goose with a long black neck and a distinctive white cheek patch.
- Brown body with a pale white chest and underparts.
- Black feet and legs.
Canada Geese are extremely common birds in Chicago.
I’m sure you probably recognize these birds, as they are very comfortable living around people and development. Look for them wherever there are grasses or grains to eat, such as lawns, parks, farm fields, and golf courses. I know I have been guilty of stepping in their “droppings” at least a few times in my own backyard as they come to eat corn from my feeding station. 🙂
Canada Goose Range Map
In fact, these geese are now so abundant, many people consider them pests for the amount of waste they produce! If you have a manicured lawn that is maintained all the way to the water’s edge, you have an open invitation for these birds to visit.
The Canada Goose is also easy to identify while flying overhead. If you see a flock of large birds in a V-formation, then it’s most likely them. Flying this way helps conserve energy, and different birds take turns leading the way.
Canada Geese are often heard in Chicago.
Listen for a wide variety of loud honks and cackles. Listen above! I have even been hissed at by them for accidentally approaching a nest too closely.
Interestingly, these geese can live a long time! Their lifespan ranges from 10 to 24 years, but one individual banded in 1969 was found again in 2001, 32 years later!
If you’re interested, you may be able to see a Canada Goose at my bird feeding station right now! I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my feeders 24/7. 🙂 Look for them on the ground eating corn.
- Anas platyrhynchos
- Males have a bright green head, thin white collar, dark reddish-brown chest, yellow bill, and a black butt with a white-tipped tail.
- Females are mottled brown with orange and brown bills.
- Both sexes have purple-blue secondary feathers on their wing, which is most visible when they are standing or flying.
My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are definitely one of the most recognizable birds in Chicago!
Mallard Range Map
Mallards are extremely comfortable around people, which is why these adaptable ducks are so widespread. They are found in virtually any wetland habitat, no matter where it’s located. We even find Mallards in our swimming pool every summer and have to chase them away, so they don’t make a mess on our deck! 🙂
Mallards readily accept artificial structures built for them by humans. If you have a nice pond or a marsh, feel free to put up a homemade nesting area to enjoy some adorable ducklings walking around your property! Just make sure you put up predator guards so predators can’t get to the eggs.
When you think of a duck quacking, it is almost inevitably a female Mallard. If there is a better duck sound, we haven’t heard it! Interestingly, males do not quack like females but instead make a raspy call.
#3. American Robin
- Turdus migratorius
- A beautiful thrush that features a rusty red breast and a dark head and back.
- Look for a white throat and white splotches around the eyes.
- Both sexes are similar, except that females appear paler.
American Robins are one of the most familiar birds in Chicago!
They inhabit a wide variety of habitats and naturally are found everywhere from forests to the tundra. But these thrushes are comfortable around people and are common to see in backyards.
American Robin Range Map
Even though they are abundant, American Robins rarely visit bird feeders because they don’t eat seeds. Instead, their diet consists of invertebrates (worms, insects, snails) and fruit. For example, I see robins frequently in my backyard, pulling up earthworms in the grass!
These birds also commonly nest near people. Look for an open cup-shaped nest that has 3-5 beautiful, distinctive sky blue color eggs.
American Robins sing a string of clear whistles, which is a familiar sound in spring. (Listen below)
Many people describe the sound as sounding like the bird is saying “cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up.”
#4. Red-winged Blackbird
- Agelaius phoeniceus
- Males are all black, except for a bright red and yellow patch on their shoulders.
- Females are brown and heavily streaked. There is a bit of yellow around their bill.
- Both sexes have a conical bill and are commonly seen sitting on cattails or perched high in a tree overlooking their territory.
Red-winged Blackbird Range Map
During the breeding season, these birds are almost exclusively found in marshes and other wet areas. Females build nests in between dense grass-like vegetation, such as cattails, sedges, and bulrushes. Males aggressively defend the nest against intruders, and I have even been attacked by Red-winged Blackbirds while walking near the swamp in my backyard!
- RELATED: 10 LIVE Bird Feeder Cams From Around the World [Including MINE!]
When it’s the nonbreeding season, Red-winged Blackbirds spend much of their time in grasslands, farm fields, and pastures looking for weedy seeds to eat. It’s common for them to be found in large flocks that feature various other blackbird species, such as grackles, cowbirds, and starlings.
Red-winged Blackbirds are easy to identify by their sounds! (Press PLAY below)
If you visit a wetland or marsh in spring, you are almost guaranteed to hear males singing and displaying, trying to attract a mate. Listen for a rich, musical song that lasts about one second and sounds like “conk-la-ree!“
#5. Northern Cardinal
- Cardinalis cardinalis
- Males are a stunning red with a black mask and throat.
- Females are pale orangish-brown with red on their crest, wings, and tail.
- Both sexes have a crest on their head and a short, thick bill that is perfect for cracking seeds.
Northern Cardinal Range Map
Without a doubt, the Northern Cardinal is one of the most popular birds at backyard feeding stations. They are not only beautifully colored, but they are incredibly common in Chicago!
In this video, you can see both male and female cardinals. If you look closely you can even see a juvenile!
Here are my three favorite ways to attract cardinals to my backyard:
- Supply their favorite foods, which include sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, corn, and peanuts.
- Use bird feeders that are easy for them to use, such as trays and hoppers.
- Keep a fresh supply of water available in a birdbath.
And with a little practice, it’s easy to identify Northern Cardinals by their songs and sounds. Interestingly, unlike most other songbirds in Chicago, even females sing.
- The most common song you will probably hear is a series of clear whistled melodies that sound like the bird is saying “birdie-birdie-birdie” or “cheer-cheer-cheer.” (Listen below!)
#6. House Sparrow
- Males have gray crowns, black bib, white cheeks, and chestnut on the sides of their face and neck. Their backs are predominantly brown with black streaks.
- Females are a dull brown color with streaks of black on their backs. Their underparts are light brown. They can be distinguished by the tan line that extends behind their eye.
House Sparrows are an invasive species (originally from the Middle East) and now one of the most abundant and widespread birds in Chicago (and the world)!
Range Map – House Sparrow
House Sparrows compete with many native birds, such as bluebirds and Purple Martins, for nest cavities. Unfortunately, these invasives species tend to win more times than not.
In most urban and suburban areas it’s INCREDIBLY COMMON to see House Sparrows. They owe their success to their ability to adapt and live near humans. Unlike most other birds, they love grains and are commonly seen eating bread and popcorn at amusement parks, sporting events, etc. At your bird feeders, they especially love eating cracked corn, millet, and milo.
House Sparrows can be heard across the entire planet. In fact, pay attention the next time you’re watching the news in another country. Listen for a simple song that includes lots of “cheep” notes.
#7. Ring-Billed Gull
- Larus delawarensis
- Adults range from 16.9 to 21.3 inches in length and have a wingspan of 41.3 and 46.1 inches.
- Breeding adults are clean gray above with a white head, white body, white tail, and black wingtips spotted with white.
- They have yellow legs, eyes, and bill with a black band.
Look for Ring-Billed Gulls in Chicago near aquatic habitats.
These are the gulls you’re most likely to see in inland locations. Look for them on coasts, piers, large bodies of water, and landfills, since they prefer to nest near freshwater sources. These gulls are adapted to human-disturbed areas and a common around cities, farmlands, docks, and even in parking lots.
Ring-billed Gulls are known for dropping and then re-catching prey. This “game” is a way of honing their hunting skills!
Interestingly, Ring-billed Gulls use a sort of built-in compass to navigate. Scientists found that chicks as young as two days old showed a preference for magnetic bearings that would lead them to their winter habitat. They typically return to their nesting location to breed each year, often within a few meters of old nest sites.
#8. Black-crowned Night-Heron
- Nycticorax nycticorax
- A relatively small, stocky, compact heron.
- Appears a bit hunchbacked, as it often tucks its neck into its body.
- Black head and back, which contrast against its white belly and gray wings.
Black-crowned Night-Heron Range Map
Black-crowned Night-Herons are common in wetlands around Chicago. In fact, they are the most widespread heron in the world, but they are often hard to actually locate and see!
As their name suggests, these herons are most active at dusk and during the evening. While the sun is out, they spend the day hiding amongst brush and vegetation near the water’s edge. By foraging at night, these birds avoid competition from other heron species!
When surprised or under duress, Black-crowned Night-Herons give a loud, barking “quawk.“ While at their nesting colonies, you can hear a variety of other croaks, barks, hisses, screams, clucks, and rattles. LISTEN BELOW!
#9. Great Blue Heron
- Ardea herodias
- A very tall and large bird, with a long neck and a wide black stripe over their eye.
- As the name suggests, they are a grayish-blue color.
- Long feather plumes on their head, neck, and back.
Great Blue Heron Range Map
Great Blue Herons are typically seen in Chicago along the edges of rivers, lakes, and wetlands.
Most of the time, they will either be motionless or moving very slowly through the water, looking for their prey. But watch them closely because when an opportunity presents itself, these herons will strike quickly and ferociously to grab something to eat. Common foods include fish, frogs, reptiles, small mammals, and even other birds.
Great Blue Herons appear majestic in flight, and once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to spot them. Watch the skies for a LARGE bird that folds its neck into an “S” shape and has its legs trailing straight behind.
Believe it or not, Great Blue Herons mostly build their nests, which are made out of sticks, very high up in trees. In addition, they almost always nest in large colonies that can include up to 500 different breeding pairs. And unbelievably, almost all of the breeding pairs nest in the same few trees!
When disturbed, these large birds make a loud “kraak” or “fraunk” sound, which can also be heard when in flight. Listen below!
#10. Rock Pigeon
- Columba livia
- A plump bird with a small head, short legs, and a thin bill.
- The typical pigeon has a gray back, a blue-grey head, and two black wing bars. But their plumage is highly variable, and it’s common to see varieties ranging from all-white to rusty-brown.
Rock Pigeons are extremely common birds in Chicago, and they are almost exclusively found in urban areas.
Rock Pigeon Range Map
These birds are easy to identify by sound. My guess is that you will already recognize their soft, throaty coos. (Press PLAY below)
Love them or hate them, Rock Pigeons have been associated with humans for a long time! Some Egyptian hieroglyphics suggest that people started domesticating them over 5,000 years ago. And because of these facts, scientists aren’t even sure where their original range was.
Which of these birds have you seen before in Chicago?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about other birds you may see in Chicago, check out my other guides!
25 Types of WATER BIRDS That Live in Illinois (Ducks, herons, loons, etc.)
19 Types of BIRDS OF PREY That are Found in Illinois (Hawks, owls, eagles, etc.)
The range maps above were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!