These are the best birding sites in NW Indiana. Sites with an (*) are on the Indiana Birding Trail. Click the site name to learn more.
Hammond Lakefront Sanctuary*
The Hammond Lakefront Park & Bird Sanctuary, a 600-meter wooded strip of lakefront on Lake Michigan, sits just to the west of the Hammond Marina. A virtual oasis of vegetation within a vast urban sprawl, this site, once well-known simply as “The Migrant Trap”, produces great concentrations of migrant passerines in spring and fall as they search for cover and food.
Entering from the eastern edge, scan the lakefront and marina for migrating and overwintering waterfowl. Walk the interior trail in a westward direction until you reach the area where the bike trail intersects the footpath. Return eastward along the fenced tracks at the southern grassy edge where sparrows are often abundant. out Typical Time to Bird Site: 1-2 hours
Gibson Woods Nature Preserve
Tucked away in the heart of the industrial region of northwest Indiana is an island of nature with some very unusual features. This 131-acre parcel of virtually "undisturbed" land is known as Gibson Woods Nature Preserve.
Gibson Woods is one of the last sizeable remnant of high quality dune and swale topography remaining in Lake County. Because of the widespread urbanization and industrialization in Northwest Indiana, this type of topography and its associated natural communities have been almost entirely eliminated. Today over 130 species of birds have been recorded at Gibson Woods. Typical time to bird site: 30-90 minutes.
Whiting Lakefront Park
Whiting Park is a well-maintained 14-acre park that sits on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Separated by less than 2 km along the lakefront, Whiting Park functions as a lakeside trap much like the Migrant Trap does. Yet because the cover at Whiting Park is less dense, and because the site is generally less isolated by surrounding heavy industry, it rarely achieves the concentrations of birds found at the Migrant Trap.
One exceptional area of interest at Whiting Park is “the wall”, a 5-foot-tall concrete structure which forms the southern boundary of the park. Sheltered from northerly Lake Michigan winds, the south side of the wall is lined with thick brush, providing ideal cover for small migrant passerines. Walking “the wall” anytime during migration can be exceedingly fruitful, and during periods of high winds it can harbor virtually the only migrants to be found along the lakefront. Typical time to bird site: 45-90 Minutes
Forsythe Park and Wolf Lake
Forsythe Park and Wolf Lake are located on the northwest side of Hammond, Indiana. Historically the Wolf Lake area was part of a complex of shallow lakes, wetlands, and beach ridges and was directly connected to Lake Michigan. The Illinois-Indiana state line (Stateline Road) nearly bisects the lake. According to the U.S. Geological Survey topographic map for the area, the lake covers 976 acres: 476 acres in Indiana and 500 acres in Illinois. Wolf Lake consists of nine distinct pools separated by dikes and Stateline Road. The dikes and pools were constructed during sand and gravel dredging for the Indiana Toll Road, which crosses the lake.
Forsythe Park is situated on the northwest end of Wolf Lake. The road through Forsythe Park is one-way and one can park along it. Check the lake for waterfowl. After passing the baseball diamonds one can see a patch of wildflowers–the only understory in the park. This patch provides special protection for migrants such as rails. A vagrant Vermilion Flycatcher faithfully perched on the baseball field fence and shrubs for over two months in the fall of 1997. Next is a tract of deciduous trees. The tract, particularly where clustered trees form canopies along with nearby pines, is a magnet for large numbers of warblers in the spring and fall. Typical time to bird site: 75 minutes
Port of Indiana (photo ID required)
The Port of Indiana is a deep-water international shipping port located at the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Although most of the Port is off-limits to the general public, a one-acre Public Access Area on the northeastern edge affords birders a very good view of its harbor and breakwalls.
The deep waters of the Port serve as a productive feeding area for migrating and wintering waterfowl; in fact, during the winter months, Burns Harbor may be the single most reliable location on the lakefront for viewing bay ducks. The breakwalls that surround the harbor serve as prime resting areas for gulls, making it easy to scan quickly for unusual larids. Particularly good birding occurs on windy days during waterfowl migration when a seemingly steady stream of lake migrants files past the Port–often flying directly over the Public Access Area. On these days it often pays to spend considerable time at the Port watching for rarities. The main road at the Port (Port Main Road) can be productive as well, especially after a fresh snowfall when birds feed on spilled grain along the roadside. Typical time to bird site: 15-60 Minutes, depending on bird movement along the lake.
Miller Beach/Marquette Park*
Miller Beach is a wide uninterrupted expanse of sandy beach that sits exactly at the southern tip of Lake Michigan in Gary. Because of its unique location on the lake, it serves as a phenomenal point of convergence for species that follow the eastern and western edges of the lake south during fall migration.
There are two key birding areas at Miller Beach. The Marquette Park Boat Launch , with its large paved beachfront parking lot, lies at the northern end of Lake Street. This parking lot offers a good view of the lake, thus allowing birders to scan the lakefront from inside their cars–a luxury appreciated on blustery fall days. Another good location to scan the lake is at the concession stand some 0.5 miles to the east of the boat launch on Oak Ave. This small concrete block structure sits slightly higher than the adjacent beachfront and provides shelter from the blowing winds that usually accompany the good birds at Miller Beach.
In the summer months, the beach at the boat launch becomes a haven for jet-skiers and sunbathers. For this reason, it is recommended either to arrive early in the morning, or to check the beaches immediately east and west of this popular bathing area. Access to the east can be achieved by driving to the concession stand, whereas access to the west requires walking down the beach from the boat launch. Typical time to bird site: 15-60 minutes, although half-day or all-day vigils are often held when conditions are right.
Grant Street Wetlands*
Grant Street Wetlands is an extensive hemi-marsh habitat, dominated with cattails and open water, providing extensive habitat for secretive wetland birds, such as moorhens, rails, and grebes. The early spring can find an abundance of waterfowl and herons, with shorebirds if habitat conditions are right year to year. The most famous resident are the secretive Yellow-headed Blackbirds, which nest in the cattails. This site remains the most dependable location to find them in Indiana. Scanning the north shore may find Black-crowned Night-herons, and an occasional Bald Eagle or Osprey may also be found.
Parking is accessed via a gravel drive, immediately south of Love's Truck Stop. You then walk up a short trail to a gravel hike/bike trail that runs along the eastern and southern perimeter. Total birding time at this site: 15-45 minutes.
Indiana Dunes State Park*
Indiana Dunes State Park occupies 2,182 acres in Northwest Indiana. It was established in 1925, as Indiana’s 5th state park. The rare collection of habitats and associated plants and animals has long been recognized as one of the most biologically rich areas in the country. Within the boundaries of Indiana Dunes State Park one can find lake, beach, foredunes, dune forests, dune swamps, prairie, and savanna habitat. This mixture helps support a vast variety of bird species, and supports many migrating birds as they funnel along the lakeshore during migration.
While any trail can find a good variety of birds, trails 2 and 10 are by far the most popular with birders.Trail 2 circles the Great Marsh and traverses it on a mile-long boardwalk. Trail 2 is a good spot for nesting woodland birds such as Hooded Warbler, Veery, and Red-shouldered Hawk. Kirtland’s Warbler has also been found here. Trail 10 follows behind the high dunes, and comes back along the beach. A variety of forestland and savanna habitat is passed on this hike. Whippoorwills are also common on summer evenings in the high dunes.
Along the lakeshore, the bird observation area (old green tower) located on a dune west of the West Beach Parking Lot offers birders a good vantage point for migrating waterfowl, passerines, and hawks. Both Dunes area and state record high counts for individual birds have been recorded from the old green tower. Some species counts include: Eastern Kingbird (418; state record), Cliff Swallow (120; Dunes area record), Cape May Warbler (21; Dunes area record), and Scarlet Tanager (61; state record).
Visitors should not pass up an opportunity to visit the park’s Nature Center. Information on the park itself, and recent bird sightings can be found there. The bird feeder area often hosts winter finches before other areas of the state, and gives good glimpses at some of the more common species.
Typical time to bird site: 2-8 hours, though all-day vigils are conducted from the bird observation area.
Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve
The Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve features 157-acres of wetlands, woodlands, prairies and trails. An abundance of plants (over 500 species!) and animals make their homes in The Preserve. Brick paved walkways, winding boardwalks and miles of granite fine trails invite guests to explore, unwind and enjoy. Known regionally for miles of hiking trails in a tranquil setting. The Preserve hosts a 3-mile loop along the perimeter path, as well as numerous short-distance options for the casual hiker, biker, or runner. Located only a few short miles from the southern shore of Lake Michigan, migratory birds find The Preserve a welcome resting stop during the migratory journey that often spans thousands of miles and endless hours of flight.
Beverly Shores - Great Marsh Trail*
Beverly Shores is a Dunes community located along Lake Michigan between Mount Baldy and the Indiana Dunes State Park.
Beverly Drive is a two lane road that runs from Hwy 12 along the southern boundary of the Beverly Shores community to Broadway, transecting a large tract of interdunal marsh. The interdunal marsh is a wetland habitat that occurs between the old dune crests (before the last recession of Lake Michigan) and the current dune crests. The roads have major speed restrictions and is heavily patrolled by the Beverly Shores Police. Beverly Drive can be birded by a couple of methods depending on time constraints and the birds of interest. The best way to sample the greatest number birds is to drive slowly down the road with all the car windows rolled down. Be advised that although this technique produces great numbers and diversity of species, most tallied birds are by sound only and not sight. The Great Marsh trail allows some hiking opportunities.
Local birders have dubbed Beverly Drive "shrike alley" for its tendency to attract Northern Shrikes during the winter months. These birds, however, hunt over large territories in the interdunal marsh and can be difficult to find on any given day. Typical Time to bird Beverly Drive: 30-60 minutes.
Dunes NP West Beach/Long Lake*
The Indiana Dunes National Park occupies 15,000+ acres of land along the lakefront in NW Indiana. This property is more subdivided, than the contiguous Indiana Dunes State Park, resulting in several, smaller birding units. West Beach, and the adjoining Long Lake provide an opportunity for rare wintering species, particularly near the succession trail's "pinery." Here winter finches, long-eared owls, waxwings, and nuthatches can be found. The state rare Townsend's Solitaire, has become a nearly annual bird at this location.
Long Lake, passed as one enters the unit, is a shallow water lake, that hosts waterfowl, coots, sandhill cranes, and occasionally shorebirds. Birders, parked at the Long Lake parking lot can walk the grasses to the north in the fall for migrating sparrows such as LeConte's Sparrow. Summer parking fees are in place at this location, but are no longer collected after Labor Day. Average birding time at this site: 30-90 minutes.
Dunes NP Heron Rookery*
Another site owned by the National Park Service, the Heron Rookery is a most excellent spring birding site. Many migrating songbirds find the early growth a rich resource for food, before the cooler lakefront sites leaf out. Though birders will not find herons nesting at the site anymore, a plethora of bird species can still be found. From the east parking area, you can follow the trail northwards to the East Arm Little Calumet River. Across the river on the north bank is the former rookery. If you continue west along the trail, you’ll follow the Little Calumet River for over a mile through a hardwood forest.
The tall sycamores are perhaps the best location in NW Indiana to find Yellow-throated Warblers. Listen for them singing in late April and May. Lousisiana Waterthrush, Barred Owls, and Pileated Woodpeckers are also common as one walks the trails. As you move towards the west, the woods become denser with beech, tulip poplars and maples. Here, there are a variety of smaller birds, including kinglets, wood thrushes, winter wrens, and gnatcatchers. Total time to bird the site: 30-60 minutes.
Rich in both natural and cultural history, being the birthplace of ecology, Cowles Bog is a great birding area and recognized Audubon Important Bird Area. The Cowles Bog area is not only the site of early ecological work by Henry Cowles, but an outstanding forest and swamp habitat. Specifically, it is afen and not a bog. A 2.5-mile trail circles the wetlands and can produce high numbers of migrants in the spring and fall. Many rarities have been found here, including Kirtland’s Warbler and Western Kingbird. For those wanting a longer walk, the trails continue to the beach through upland oak savanna habitats. Spring migrants can often be found hugging the swamp, particularly on colder days. Sandhill Cranes are known to nest in the wetlands during the early summer, and finding (or hearing) Virginia Rails and Soras can be almost certain. In the winter months, Northern Shrikes are known to inhabit the frozen wetlands near Mineral Springs Rd.
Portage Lakefront & Riverwalk*
Portage Lakefront & Riverwalk has 3 parking lots to help birders access Lake Michigan, the 0.9 mile trail, and Burns Waterway. Opened in 2008 as brownfield reclamation, the restored dunes habitat has hosted seasonal migrants, birds of prey flyovers, and resident nesters. Open water in the winter encourages waterfowl to rest there. The trail is paved with one set of stairs and a section of boardwalk along the waterway side. The public pavilion includes all-year restrooms and seasonal snack bar.
The Roxana Neighborhood/Pond area is roughly defined as the Grand Calumet River between Columbia Avenue and Indianapolis Boulevard. This portion of the river rarely (if ever) freezes, so as the local ponds and even Lake Michigan freeze up, this area of water remains open for waterfowl. Ducks that you normally find on Lake Michigan, such as Redhead, Common Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, Common and Red-breasted Merganser, are often seen along this stretch of the river, mixed in with Gadwall, Hooded Mergansers, and Mallards.
What makes this site increasingly special is the option to stay in your car as you drive right along the river, giving you close-up looks at the birds through your binoculars or your camera lens. The suggested start is at the corner of Molesberger Place and East Roosevelt Street (41.616502, -87.496937) working your way east toward Indianapolis Boulevard. This path allows you to easily observe the birds through the driver’s side window. The included map shows the suggested route.