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Spark a Life-Long Hobby

An adult and child exploring a grassland landscape with binoculars.

Spring Skies Shimmer with Birds 

Just as a single spark can start a fire, for many individuals a single bird sighting can ignite a passion. For Jessica Becker, a program specialist with the Forest Preserves’ Conservation & Experiential Programming Department, her “spark bird”—a term used by birders to describe that special bird sighting—is the sandhill crane.  

During a trip to see a sandhill crane migration stop-over, Jessica describes the feeling of witnessing tens of thousands of sandhill cranes with one word: spectacular.  

“It kind of felt like you were just part of a much larger world, but it was outside of your human experience,” she says. “Here, you’re just existing as a part of the environment because this is happening without any human intervention. To me, seeing these thousands of sandhill cranes was a good connection back to the natural world.” 

A premiere birding destination in the Midwest, the Forest Preserves of Cook County plays host to hundreds of different bird species throughout the year—which means there are hundreds of opportunities to spot your spark bird. Although each season welcomes unique bird species, the spring and fall migrations bring a remarkable array of birds to our 70,000 acres of green space. 

Today, Jessica uses her passion for birding to help spark others’ love for birdwatching and the natural world. This season, consider joining us for a guided bird walk (often with binoculars available to borrow). We also offer bird education programs covering birding ethics and how you can help birds at home, volunteer opportunities to care for critical bird habitat and more. 

Birding Resources

We can help you discover Cook County’s resident and migrating bird species, find volunteer opportunities, learn about at-home projects and join programs that can connect you to a community of like-minded individuals.  

Head over to our Birding Page linked below, to download a copy of our birding checklist, find instructions on how to build a birdhouse and view a full list of upcoming birding events and programs. 

Birding Kit Checklist 

Ready to try birding? Here are the essentials you’ll need to get started! 

  • Binoculars: Choosing binoculars is a personal choice, with options for sizes, capabilities and budgets. Jessica recommends purchasing a pair from a birding optics company. 
  • Field guide: The diversity of birding field guides is as great as the diversity of bird species. Do you prefer photographs or drawings to help identify birds? How do you want the species to be organized? Stop by your local book retailer to check out different options. 
  • Notebook and writing utensil:  Birders like to keep track of their observations and questions about identification. And you can use your notes when you visit your nearest Forest Preserves nature center to chat with a naturalist.  
  • Outdoor necessities: You can see a great diversity of birds at neighborhood feeders, but a whole world of birding can be explored out in nature. Be prepared to spend time outside with appropriate attire, sunscreen and bug spray, as well as water and a snack. 
  • Open mind: As with any new hobby, it can take time to learn to be a birder. It can be frustrating at the start but give yourself time and patience—soon you’ll recognize a variety of bird species using their coloring, size, song and more!