Illinois Beach State Park / North Unit

Hawk Watch: Hawk Heaven and More

Welcome to Chicago’s original skyway. Between late August and Thanksgiving, Illinois Beach State Park’s North Unit is one of the premier spots in the Midwest to view hawk migration. From Broad-winged Hawks to Merlins, a day spent here won’t only give you a diversity of species, but a chance at large numbers.

A successful Hawk Watch is conducted here each year during raptor migration. A group of dedicated volunteers keep the watch going seven days a week. Also, both at the Hawk Watch site and in the rest of the park, there are other birding opportunities as well.

Birds to Look For

During hawk migration, the skies over the North Unit can yield species like Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, Rough-legged Hawk, Osprey, Broad-winged hawk and even the occasional Golden Eagle.

In spring and summer, there are many possibilities for migrating and breeding specialties. Birding around Sand Lake can produce many migrating warblers such as Blackburnian and Canada Warblers. Check in the summer for breeding Yellow-breasted Chats and American Redstarts. One rarity seen around Sand Lake has been Blue Grosbeak, including one that bred during the summer of 2009. During the winter, the North Unit is a reliable spot for Northern Shrikes.

Be sure to also check Lake Michigan for migrating waterfowl such as Red-throated Loon. Also, check the beach for the possibility of shorebirds like the rare Piping Plover that showed up in 2007 as well as rare wintering gulls such as Greater Black-backed and Thayer’s Gulls.

Birding IBSP North

The North Unit is located on Sheridan Road and 17th street in far north suburban Zion. Take 17th street in to enter the park. As you drive in, you will see Sand Lake to your right. Birding around the lake in spring and fall can be especially productive. In the spring and summer of 2009, at least three Yellow-breasted Chats were singing on territory.

Continuing up the road, the habitat begins to clear and have more scattered trees and open grassland. In winter, this area and up to the beach is a great place to find Northern Shrikes and Northern Harriers as well as American Tree Sparrows. In spring and summer check these areas for grassland species. In some years, rarities like Prairie Warbler have been seen here.

Monitoring environmentals at the Illinois Beach State Park HawkWatchThe pavilion just east of Sand Lake is where the Hawk Watch is conducted. The volunteers there are always welcoming and could always use some extra help recording species. Bring warm clothes if you plan on staying for a longer period of time. The hawk watch is worth the stop to see a spectacle unfold that has gained national attention in the birding world.

From the Hawk Watch site, walk west until you hit a trail that turns south. There can be good birding along here, including perched raptors as well as land birds. If you turn left when this trail ends and take the paved trail to the lake, you might glimpse a few Bank Swallows on the wire or in the sand dunes where they nest.
Going back to the Hawk Watch, drive east (toward the lake) to the next parking lot. The trail going north from the parking lot can be especially productive during spring and fall migration, with everything from songbirds and perched raptors to Red-headed Woodpeckers with young in the fall.

About the Illinois Beach State Park (IBSP) HawkWatch

“Dedicated to the conservation and public awareness of our magnificent Raptors”

Daily tally board at the Illinois Beach State Park Hawk Watch

The Illinois Beach State Park Hawk Watch is a group of volunteers who share a love of raptors, a drive to learn more about them and a desire to share their passion with others.

Hardy Hawk watchers identify and count south bound migrating diurnal raptors and Turkey Vultures annually from the last weekend of August until the end of November. Weather permitting, the site is staffed for at least 4 hours every day between 6 AM and sunset.

Guests and field trips are always welcome and should be sure to wear warm clothing and bring binoculars as well as scopes if you have one.
Online Hawk Watch Resources:
IBSP HawkWatch
HawkCount – Repository for North American hawk watch sites including IBSP
Hawks in the Sky – HawkWatches around the Western Great Lakes
Hawk Migration Association of North America