Bird watching takes flight in Chicago

Balmy spring days are definitely worth singing about, and the birds know it. Walk down any city street right now and you’ll hear their cheerful twitter and see more than a few feathers flying.

It’s May and the birds have arrived in Chicago—lots and lots of birds. Every spring, millions of birds, representing more than 300 species, travel the Mississippi Flyway, a migratory route stretching from New Orleans to northwest Canada.

Bird watching can be enjoyed any time of the year in Chicago, but May is the perfect month for beginning birders.

“May simply has the greatest volume and variety of birds of any month of the year. They’re everywhere—it’s a feast of birds,” says Sonny Cohen, bird enthusiast and board member of the Lake-Cook Audubon Society.

By summer the birds get quieter as they nest, and many of the unusual species have moved on, he says.

Even if you don’t plan to make bird watching a hobby, it’s a nice way to enjoy the outdoors and learn something new.

Cohen offers these helpful tips for first time birders:

  1. Go with a group. You’ll learn faster, and experienced guides can take you to exact locations to view specific types of birds.
  2. A good pair of binoculars is essential. It’s OK to share, but ideally each person carries their own pair.
  3. Bird watching field trips are most suitable for adults and children over 10. It’s best to start with backyard birding if you have kids under 10.
  4. Take a hat with a visor, mosquito repellent, binoculars, boots or sturdy shoes, a notebook and pen.

Numerous class and field trip listings can be found at, and, the website of the Illinois Ornithological Society.

Kids 9-18 can check out the Illinois Young Birders Association,, for activities and field trips especially designed for them.

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