Nestled in northwest Cook County, 330-acre Baker’s Lake Forest Preserve is home to one of the most significant heron rookeries in the Midwest. This dedicated Illinois state nature preserve offers many opportunities to view wildlife, especially large birds. Easy-to-navigate, well-marked trails wind through old field, prairie and wetlands.
Enjoying Baker’s Lake
Baker’s Lake is a birdwatcher’s dream. Bring binoculars or a spotting scope to view all of the bird life on the lake and in the prairie. At the north end of the lake, visitors can observe the island rookery from a viewing platform. The rookery is made of several large wooden structures, each with three nesting platforms. Through binoculars or a strong camera lens, the structures look like scaffolding. Come in June to catch the height of breeding season, when the rookery becomes a truly wild and noisy place.
The unpaved trails through Baker’s Lake intersect with a variety of habitats in a short hike, with informative signs along the way. Winding through former agricultural field, restored prairie and crossing a bridge over wetlands, the trails access the lake at a few points.
Nature at Baker’s Lake
In spring and early summer, great blue herons, great egrets and the state-endangered black-crowned night-heron all nest within the rookery, one of the largest in Illinois. The manmade structure was built in 2000 to provide extra nesting space on the lake’s island, often overcrowded with birds. Recycled Christmas trees are added to the nesting area in winter to provide additional nesting space and privacy for the shy night herons.
Herons, egrets, and breeding cormorants start arriving in late March or early April. Other water birds, including ducks, mergansers and geese, use the lake as a migratory stopover and start arriving in March and April. Thousands of coots, which look like ducks but are more closely related to sandhill cranes, rest on the water during summer months. Pied-billed grebes, horned grebes, ring-necked ducks, scaups, wigeons, buffleheads, common loons, northern shovelers gadwalls and blue-winged teals can also often be spotted in the lake.
Wildlife taking advantage of Baker’s Lake habitat mix include northern harrier, red-headed woodpecker and coyotes.