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Exploring Winter Wildlife in Central Illinois

Experience the thrill as you venture into the snowy wilderness on a guided exploration tour!

Starved Rock State Park is a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. With its stunning canyons and diverse array of plants and animals, the park is a great destination for exploring and observing the local wildlife – even in the coldest months when you expect the park to be quiet...

Bald Eagle near Eagle Cliff Overlook at Starved Rock State Park

During the winter months, the park's wildlife undergoes some interesting changes. Many of the park's bird species migrate south for the winter, while others stay behind and adapt to the colder weather. One of the most exciting winter wildlife sightings at the park is the bald eagle. These majestic birds can often be seen perched in trees along the Illinois River, or soaring overhead in search of food. In the winter, bald eagles often feed on fish that are more easily accessible due to the ice on the river and unfrozen water near the lock and dam.

The park is hosting Eagles at the Rock! on January 28th, 2023. On January 28th, visitors can learn about bald eagles and other birds of prey, participate in guided hikes and birdwatching tours, and view live raptors up close. Click here to learn more on the Starved Rock Foundation’s page.

Bald Eagle at Starved Rock State Park

Often, the best place to view bald eagles at the park is at the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center, located at 950 N 27th Road (along Dee Bennett Road), Ottawa, IL. Visitors can watch for eagles from the 2nd floor lookout of the Waterway Visitor Center. There is a monoscope that you can use, but we recommend bringing your own binoculars if you have a pair. And if you’re a photographer, make sure to bring the best zoom lens you have!

While some bird species leave the park for the winter, others adapt to the colder weather and stay behind. Woodpeckers, for example, can often be seen drumming on trees to attract mates or searching for insects in the bark. Finches, such as the American goldfinch, can also be seen at the park during the winter, feeding on seeds and berries.

In addition to birds, the park is home to a variety of other wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, coyotes, and foxes. These animals can often be seen foraging for food in the park's timber and are a lot easier to pick out in the winter among the white snow. However, it is often difficult to see these animals during the day as park traffic keeps them out of the area and typically only come out around night when visitors are not allowed on the trails. Seeing wildlife during the day makes it so much more special!

Bison at Buffalo Rock State Park

Looking to spot something larger than a deer? You’re in luck! Visitors can see up to three bison at the nearby Buffalo Rock State Park. The park is located on a bluff that was once an island in the Illinois River. It’s located at 300 N 27th Rd, Ottawa, IL 61350. There are two American Bison and a calf that live in this park. The bison are enclosed and can be safely viewed from the main parking lot. As with all wildlife, please do not feed or disturb them.

The winter months at Starved Rock State Park offer a unique and exciting opportunity to observe the local wildlife. Whether you're a seasoned birdwatcher or just looking to explore the great outdoors, the park is a great destination for discovering the beauty and diversity of nature – no matter the season you decide to visit!


Trail at the top of Starved Rock

Looking for recommendations when hiking in the winter? Check out our blog post on recommendations to enhance your winter hiking experience.

We hope these winter hiking tips will help you out on your next snowy adventure! Don’t forget to tag us and use the hashtag starvedrockhikers when sharing all your winter hiking moments! We’ll also do our best to keep hikers informed via our Hikers group on Facebook. Click here to join for free!

See you on the trail!

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