Chicago, often referred to as the “Windy City,” is known for its bustling city life, iconic skyline, and vibrant culture. However, amidst the urban landscape, there lies a surprising array of wild animals that call the region home. From parks and forest preserves to natural areas along Lake Michigan, Chicago and its surrounding areas offer a unique blend of urban and natural habitats, providing a haven for a diverse range of wildlife.
Most Common Wild Animals in Chicago
Exploring the city’s parks, forest preserves, and green spaces can lead to surprising encounters with stunning species. It reminds us of the vibrant natural world that exists alongside urban environments. You can expect to find these on your wild animal tour of Chicago and its outskirts:
Coyotes are a common sight in Chicago and its outskirts. These adaptable and intelligent canines have thrived in urban environments, including parks and green spaces. They are primarily nocturnal but can be spotted during the day as well. Coyotes are known for their distinctive yipping and howling sounds. They play a crucial role in controlling rodent populations and are generally shy and wary of humans. Observing a coyote from a distance can be a thrilling experience and a reminder of the wildlife that coexists with the city.
2. White-tailed Deer
Despite being a symbol of rural landscapes, white-tailed deer are also present in the forest preserves and green spaces surrounding Chicago. These graceful creatures can often be seen foraging in wooded areas or crossing open fields. During the breeding season or “rut,” bucks engage in impressive displays of antler clashes to establish dominance and court females. White-tailed deer sightings in Chicago’s natural areas provide a glimpse into the region’s diverse wildlife.
3. Red Fox
The red fox is an elusive and cunning predator that has adapted well to urban and suburban environments. These beautiful creatures, characterized by their reddish fur and bushy tails, can occasionally be spotted in parks and green spaces. Red foxes are primarily nocturnal and may become more active during twilight hours. They are known for their agility and stealth, making them intriguing animals to observe in their natural habitat.
4. Great Blue Heron
The great blue heron is a majestic wading bird that frequents wetlands, ponds, and rivers in and around Chicago. Standing at around four feet tall, with a wingspan of over six feet, it is an impressive sight. These birds have long legs, long necks, and distinctive blue-gray plumage. Patiently stalking their prey, which includes fish, frogs, and small mammals, great blue herons use their sharp beaks to strike swiftly and consume their meals. Watching these elegant birds hunt or take flight is a captivating experience.
5. Peregrine Falcon
One of the fastest animals on the planet, the peregrine falcon, has made a remarkable comeback in urban areas, including Chicago. Known for its breathtaking aerial dives, or “stoops,” the peregrine falcon hunts pigeons and other birds in the city skyline. With their distinctive dark-gray feathers and pointed wings, these falcons are a symbol of power and agility. Peregrine falcons have adapted to urban life by nesting on skyscrapers and other high structures, providing a thrilling opportunity to witness nature’s mastery in the heart of the city.
Best Places to See the Animals
If you are interested in observing wildlife in Chicago, there are several notable locations throughout the city, and outside of its immediate borders, where you can have the opportunity to see a diverse range of species. Here are some of the best places to see wildlife in Chicago:
1. Deer Grove Forest Preserve
Situated in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, Deer Grove Forest Preserve provides a natural habitat for various wildlife species. It features forests, prairies, and wetlands, making it an ideal spot for birdwatching and observing native wildlife like white-tailed deer, coyotes, foxes, and various bird species.
2. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
Located in Darien, around 20 miles southwest of Chicago, Waterfall Glen is a picturesque forest preserve known for its diverse ecosystem. The preserve offers over 2,500 acres of woodlands, prairies, and savannas, making it home to numerous animals. Visitors may encounter white-tailed deer, raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, and a variety of bird species.
3. Illinois Beach State Park
Located in Zion, approximately 45 miles north of downtown Chicago, Illinois Beach State Park stretches along the shore of Lake Michigan. It boasts beautiful sandy beaches, dunes, marshes, and woodlands. The park is an excellent place to spot various bird species, including migrating birds during the spring and fall seasons. Visitors may also come across white-tailed deer, foxes, rabbits, and other wildlife.
4. Moraine Hills State Park
Situated in McHenry County, about 50 miles northwest of Chicago, Moraine Hills State Park offers diverse natural habitats with lakes, wetlands, prairies, and woodlands. It is a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife lovers. Visitors have the chance to observe waterfowl, turtles, beavers, herons, and other animals in their natural surroundings.
5. Starved Rock State Park
Some 90 miles southwest of Chicago, Starved Rock State Park is known for its stunning landscapes and outdoor recreational opportunities. The park features deep canyons, waterfalls, and forests, providing an excellent habitat for various animals. Visitors may encounter white-tailed deer, squirrels, raccoons, and a variety of bird species while hiking the park’s trails.
6. Indiana Dunes National Park
Not everyone knows this, but Chicago, or rather East Chicago, is actually part of the state of Indiana. Therefore, this national park is still on the outskirts of the city. Situated on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, just east of Chicago, Indiana Dunes National Park offers diverse ecosystems, including dunes, forests, wetlands, and prairies. The park is home to an array of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, foxes, coyotes, various bird species, and occasional sightings of rare species like the Indiana bat and Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake.
7. Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
Located about 50 miles southwest of Chicago, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is a unique nature reserve that preserves and restores the native tallgrass prairie. This expansive prairie ecosystem supports a rich variety of wildlife, including bison, deer, coyotes, various bird species, and numerous insect species. The prairie offers hiking trails and guided tours for visitors to explore and observe the wildlife.
8. Volo Bog State Natural Area
Situated in Ingleside, approximately 50 miles northwest of Chicago, Volo Bog State Natural Area is home to a fascinating natural bog habitat. The area provides shelter to a variety of plant and animal species, including turtles, frogs, migratory birds, and rare orchids. Visitors can explore the boardwalk trails that lead through the bog and learn about its unique ecology.
9. Lake County Forest Preserves
Lake County, located just north of Chicago, offers a network of forest preserves with diverse habitats. These preserves, such as Ryerson Conservation Area, Grant Woods, and Rollins Savanna, provide opportunities to see wildlife like white-tailed deer, coyotes, foxes, birds, and other native species. Many preserves have trails and observation points where visitors can observe wildlife in their natural surroundings.
Final Words and Conclusion
Remember to practice responsible wildlife viewing by maintaining a respectful distance, not feeding or disturbing the animals, and following any guidelines or regulations set forth by the specific locations. By appreciating and protecting Chicago’s wildlife, we can ensure these habitats continue to thrive for future generations to enjoy.
A Great Place for Animal Lovers
Beyond the concrete and steel, Chicago harbors a rich tapestry of wildlife, offering residents and visitors an opportunity to connect with nature in unexpected ways. From peregrine falcons soaring above skyscrapers to coyotes roaming the parks, the city’s wild inhabitants remind us that nature’s resilience can thrive even in the most urban of landscapes. By appreciating and protecting these creatures, we can create a harmonious balance between the vibrant city life and the wild wonders that make Chicago truly unique.