Illinois & Indiana: Winter 2016–2017

1 December–28 February

James D. Hengeveld

Keith A. McMullen

Geoffrey A. Williamson

Recommended citation:

Hengeveld, J. D., et al. 2020. Winter 2016–2017: Illinois and Indiana. <> North American Birds.

Despite a slightly cooler-than-normal December, it was, again, a very warm winter, and the January-February period was the warmest on record (5.2 C above average). As was the case in the previous winter, mild conditions produced high numbers of semi-hardy species reported in record numbers. In addition, many species stayed later than normal post-Fall, and others arrived early pre-Spring. Rarities included Brant, Cinnamon Teal, Rufous Hummingbird, Mew Gull, Gyrfalcon, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, Varied Thrush, and Bohemian Waxwing. Out-of-season birds included Common Tern, American Bittern, Osprey, House Wren, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Tennessee and Yellow-throated warblers, Summer Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and Dickcissel.

Contributors (sub-regional compilers in boldface)

Shanin Abreu, Andrew S. Aldrich, Edward A. Anderson, Mark Arvin, Anya Auerbach, David Ayer, Joe Bailey, Terry Ballenger, Jake Bartecki (JBi), Emil Baumbach (EBa), Tommy & Colleen Becker, Steve Bell, Jeff & Sandy Belth, Trice Berkley (TrB), Richard Bisbee (RBe), Don Blecha, Neal Bogan, H. David Bohlen, Ron Bradley, Cindy Breedlove (CBl), Kenneth J. Brock (Indiana), Cindy Brown, Ethan Brown, Michael R. Brown, Willie Buck, Sherry Burnett (SBt), Ben Burrus, Oliver Burrus, Nathan Carmichael, David Carr (DCr), John K. Cassady, Dan Collins, Matthew M. Cvetas, Andy Davis, John Davis, Clayton Delancey (CDy), Cathy & Travis DeNeal, Chelsea DeVivo (CDe), Colin Dobson, Stephanie Fields, Ray Fini, Tyler D. Funk, Allen Gathman, Valerie Gebert, Andy Gilbert (AGt), Allisyn-Marie Gillet, Steven Gilstrap (SGp), Don Gorney, Jesse Graves, Steve Graves, Judy Groskind (JGk), Brad Grover, Brendan J. Grube, Robert Guth, Mark Haas, Stephen B. Hager, Alex Hale, C. Leroy Harrison, Don Hartzler, Ted Hartzler, Roger Hayes, Jim & Susan Hengeveld, Jed B. Hertz, Frank R. Holmes, Edward M. Hopkins, Steve J. Huggins, Bob Huguenard, Cathie Hutcheson, Illinois Ornithological Society, Mike Ingram, Dan Kaiser, Davida Kalina (DKl), Dan M. Kassebaum, Amy Kearns, John C. Kendall, Nick Kiehl, Robert Kissel, Joseph Kurtz, Corey Lange, Steven L. Lima, Tim Lindebaum, John & Karen Lindsey, Don E. Lopat, Eric N. Lundquist, Garrett MacDonald, Mike A. Madsen, Earl Mast (EMt), Kelly J. McKay, Keith A. McMullen

Contributors (cont.)

John Meredig (JMg), Bob Meier, Jesse Meier, Eric Michael, Marion Miller, Charles E. Mills, Fran R. Morel, Don D. Mullison, Luis G. Muñoz, Christopher Newman, Randy W. Nyboer, Denise Oberle, Anne Parmley, Joe Phipps, Dan & Connie Pickett, Sam Plew, Eric Ripma, Kirk Roth, Rhonda M. Rothrock, Tony Rothering, William C. Rowe, David Rupp, Ryan J. Sanderson, Beau J. Schaefer, Peter E. Scott, Adam W. Sell, Robert E. Shelby, Stephen Smith (SSm), Evan Speck, Sandra Spence, Bridget A. Stancombe, Christopher Stapleton, Alan F. Stokie, Brian Storvik, Douglas F. Stotz, Anne Straight, Kristin Stratton, Lee Swanson, Aerin Tedesco, David L. Thomas, Rhiannon Thunell, Michael A. Topp, Stuart Tower, Vicky and Gordon Tucker, Jim Tudor, Lynn H. Vernon, Tony Ward, Robert Watson, Vern W. Wilkins, Dan T. Williams (Illinois), Geoffrey A. Williamson, Benjamin C. Winger, Matthew J. Winks, Ted Wolff (TWf), Darin Yutzy. The contributions of many other individuals who were not explicitly cited were critical to the preparation of this report. We thank them for their observations.


Carlyle (Carlyle Lake, Clinton, Bond and Fayette, IL); Emiquon (Emiquon N. W. R. and The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve, Fulton, IL); F. W. A. (Fish and Wildlife Area); Goose Pond (Goose Pond F. W. A., Greene, IN); Michigan City (Michigan City Harbor, LaPorte, IN), Montrose (Montrose Point in Chicago’s Lincoln Park).

Waterfowl through Cranes

It was a fine season for waterfowl, with record numbers of several species reported. Impressive goose numbers in Illinois included 50,000 Greater White-fronted at Wightman Lake, Marshall 19 Feb (SA, MJW); 350,000 and 300,000 Snow at Meredosia, Morgan 17 Feb (CD, TW) and Carlyle 22 Jan (DMK), respectively; and 240 Ross’s in Morgan 20 Feb (CD, TW). A Brant was a nice surprise at Chicago’s Northerly Island 8–11 Nov (SJH, m. ob.). Trumpeter Swans continue to thrive in the region, with a high count of 827 at Universal Mine, Edgar, IL 7 Jan (TDF, IOS). The 12 Blue-winged Teal at Chinook Mine, Clay 27 Feb (PES) furnished Indiana’s second highest ever winter count. One male Cinnamon Teal and possibly a second (or hybrid) were at Kankakee F. W. A., LaPorte 22–24 Feb (BH, EMH et al.), providing Indiana’s earliest “spring” record.







7 Dec

Two Rivers N. W. R., Calhoun



7 Dec

Lower Mississippi River, Calhoun

Northern Shoveler


7 Dec

Two Rivers N. W. R., Calhoun

Northern Pintail


12 Dec

Goose Lake, Woodford

Green-winged Teal


7 Dec

Two Rivers N. W. R., Calhoun



12 Dec

Mississippi River, Pool 19, Hancock

Ring-necked Duck


7 Dec

Two Rivers N. W. R., Calhoun

Lesser Scaup


12 Dec

Mississippi River, Pool 19, Hancock

Common Goldeneye


12 Dec

Mississippi River, Pool 19, Hancock

Ruddy Duck


12 Dec

Upper Peoria Lake, Peoria

Table 1: Selected Illinois waterfowl numbers based on aerial surveys by Aaron Yetter of the Illinois Natural History Survey

Other impressive waterfowl numbers in Illinois included 1500 Redhead at Illinois Beach S. P., Lake 3 Dec (AFS), 3000 Greater Scaup at Waukegan, Lake 15 Jan (BB, OB), and 8600 Red-breasted Mergansers at Illinois Beach S. P. 3 Dec (BJS, AWS). An immature male Harlequin Duck was at Waukegan, Lake, IL 9 Dec (AWS) and 3 Jan (KAM), and likely the same bird was at North Point Marina, Lake, IL 15 Jan (OB, m. ob.). A female was at Montrose 4 Jan (AT) and an adult male was at Channahon, Grundy, IL 1 Jan (DFS). Numbers of Surf Scoters were low on the Lake Michigan lakefront, as well as inland, where only 7 were reported. White-winged Scoters were more numerous both inland and on the Lake Michigan lakefront, with 59 the highest lakefront count on 1 Jan at Beverly Shores, Porter (DG) and 9 at Lake Charleston, Coles, IL 10 Feb (ph. RB, m. ob.) the highest inland count. The 13 Black Scoters at Olive Park, Chicago 22 Feb (GAW) represented a good count for the species, and 2 at Prairie Creek Res., Delaware, IN 12 Dec (GM, CDy) furnished the highest inland count. Long-tailed Ducks were reported in much higher than normal numbers, with a high count of 15 at Michigan City 9 Dec (JK).

Greater Prairie-Chicken numbers remained consistent, with 40 to 45 birds present all winter at Prairie Ridge State Natural Area, Marion, IL (CLH, RES), and 30 at the Prairie Ridge property in Jasper, IL 21 Feb (CLH). Single Red-necked Grebes at Summit Lake S. P., Henry, IN 12 Dec (GM, CDy) and at Carlyle 17–18 Dec were late to depart (DMK), while an early spring migrant bird was at Emiquon 19 Feb (JP, m. ob.). Single Western Grebes were nice treats for birders at Lake Bloomington, McLean, IL 1–7 Dec (JP, m. ob.) and at Port of Indiana, Porter, IN 30 Dec–1 Jan (KS, m. ob.). An immature female Rufous Hummingbird was captured, banded, and subsequently observed near Harrisburg, Saline, IL 22 Nov–2 Dec (C&TD, CH, SS).

There were 4 Virginia Rails reported, the latest being one at Prairie Ridge State Natural Area, Jasper, IL 28 Dec (CLH, RES) and one at Illinois Beach S. P., Lake, IL 1 Jan (RBe, NC, BJS, BS). A Sora, possibly with a broken wing, was found near New Paris, Elkhart, IN 14–20 Dec (WB). During a 7 Dec DNR weekly waterfowl survey, 20,101 American Coot were logged (BAS), representing Indiana’s all-time largest single party count. The eastern migratory Whooping Crane population has been hovering around 100 individuals, and as the result of their relatively recent short-stopping fall migration strategy, quite a few have been overwintering in the region (rather than migrating to Florida). On 1 Dec, 25 cranes, representing nearly one quarter of the population, were documented within and around Goose Pond (AMG, DK, SSm). A number of others were reported in Illinois, including 4 at Kaskaskia Island, Randolph (CS, m. ob.), one of which unfortunately died of an apparent collision with a power line.

Shorebirds through Owls

An amazing number of shorebirds stayed later than usual in December or arrived early during the balmy February weather. In the Wabash River bottoms, Vigo, IN, 95 Killdeer were tallied 26 Feb (SLL). Five Dunlin lingered at Rend Lake, Jefferson, IL 2 Dec (DDM), 4 were at Emiquon 3 Dec (CD, TW), and one was in Kankakee, IL 5 Dec (JBH). The lone Purple Sandpiper of the season was at Port of Indiana, Porter 24–30 Dec (DG, JB, RJS, EM et al.). A large group of Least Sandpipers (84) was present at Rend Lake, Jefferson, IL 2 Dec (DDM), another group (85) was at Melvin Price Lock and Dam, Madison, IL 12 Dec (WCR, VG), and an individual noted along Island Road, Jackson, IL 29 Jan was apparently overwintering (JT). The species set a phenomenally early arrival date for the northern tier of Indiana at Kankakee F. W. A., LaPorte 26 Feb (BH). On 23 Feb, a lone Pectoral Sandpiper was in the Santa Fe Bottoms, Clinton, IL (RH), and 7 were found on the Wabash River floodplain, Vigo (MRB), representing the first ever recorded in February for Indiana. A singleton found at Kankakee F. W. A., LaPorte 25 Feb (LHV) provided the first winter record for the northern tier of Indiana. Several American Woodcocks were heard displaying in January, and the record warm late February days stimulated a flood of displaying birds, yielding a record 293 birds in Indiana. A Spotted Sandpiper lingered at Crab Orchard N. W. R., Williamson, IL through 22 Dec (JGk). Late staying Lesser Yellowlegs were at Emiquon 3 Dec (CD, TW) and at Lake Gibson, Gibson, IN 18 Dec (CEM), while at the Dick Blythe Refuge, LaPorte, one found 21 Feb (BH) was Indiana’s fourth earliest and represented the first winter record for the northern tier of Indiana. The 3 Greater Yellowlegs logged at Goose Pond 22 Feb (AK) established an all-time early arrival date for Indiana.

The only record of Black-legged Kittiwake occurred 8 Dec from the Green Tower at Dunes S. P., Porter, IN (BJG). A presumed hybrid Laughing × Ring-billed Gull was at Michigan City 3 Dec (JKC, RJS, LHV, m. ob.). Iceland Gulls were reported from fifteen counties in the region, and the southernmost record pertained to an adult thayeri 22 Jan at Carlyle (ph. DMK). The largest count of Lesser Black-backed Gull was 5 at Carlyle 22 Jan (ph. DMK) and at Baugo Bay, St. Joseph, IN 31 Jan (EM). Notable were 39 Great Black-backed Gulls 10 Feb at the BP warm water outlet, Lake, IN (MAT). Glaucous Gulls were reported from twelve counties in the region. Indiana’s third December record of Common Tern was logged on the 14th at Lake Monroe, Monroe (SF).

The only Red-throated Loons seen away from the Lake Michigan lakefront were singles at Lake Charleston, Coles, IL 5–6 Dec (RB) and at Lake Monroe, Monroe, IN 17 Dec (J&SH et al.). A single Pacific Loon was at Eagle Creek Park, Indianapolis 1 Dec (ER), and the following day there were 3 there (KR); and 2 were on Lake Monroe, Monroe 17 Dec (J&SH, J&SB et al.). An eager Neotropic Cormorant was at Emiquon 26 Feb (CD, TW, DKl, CL). An amazing count of 12,000 American White Pelicans at Carlyle 12 Feb (DMK), and a record winter total in Indiana shows their continued strength in the region. An American Bittern at Chicago’s Northerly Island 2 Dec was late (DFS). At Prophetstown S. P., Tippecanoe, a Great Egret on 1 Feb (MA) provided Indiana’s second February record.

Incredibly, 6 Ospreys were seen during the period: at Lake Monroe, Monroe, IN 15 Dec (RK, RW); at Fermilab, DuPage, IL 26 Dec (DEL); at Winona Lake, Kosciusko, IN 31 Dec (D&CP); near Cairo, Alexander, IL 7 Jan (AD); and the ones at North Aurora, Kane, IL 20 Feb (JBi) and east of Oakland City, Pike, IN 25 Feb (NB) may have been early spring migrants. Two reported adult Northern Goshawks included one in Elkhart, Elkhart, IN 2 Dec (JD, TrB) and one in Douglas, IL 31 Dec (DLT). Golden Eagles were reported in good numbers in the region, the 3 at Pigeon River F. W. A., LaGrange, IN 7 Jan (SP) and the 4 in Jersey, IL 28 Jan (CD, TW) constituting the highest counts.

Unusual for the northern tier, a Barn Owl was found on a farm in LaGrange, IN 19–26 Feb (EMt, m. ob.). Snowy Owls were reported from 17 counties, all but two of them in Illinois. An excellent count of 5 Long-eared Owls was made along the Chicago lakefront 27 Dec (FRM), while the high regional count consisted of 13 at Prophetstown S. P., Tippecanoe, IN 29 Jan (MA). The high count of Short-eared Owls was 14 at the reclaimed Viking Mine area in Daviess, IN 19 Dec (AK). Northern Saw-whet Owls were reported from 18 counties, with maximum counts of 3 in Lee, IL 3–30 Dec (SBH) and at Sand Ridge S. F., Mason, IL 9 Feb (MI).

A Gyrfalcon near Colfax, McLean, IL 13 Feb (TL) was an exciting find. Unprecedented were reports of 5–7 Prairie Falcons in the region: for the sixth consecutive year, one or 2 frequented the agricultural fields of Douglas/Coles, IL 1 Dec–29 Jan (†ph. TDF, m. ob.); one to 2 were at Mt. Erie Bottoms, Wayne, IL 16–30 Dec and 7–9 Jan (CLH, RES); a singleton was at Prairie Ridge State Natural Area., Jasper, IL 28 Dec (CLH, RES) and 23 Feb (CLH); one was southeast of Somerville, Gibson, IN 31 Dec (ES, DC, DA); and one was west of Sandborn, Knox, IN 4 Feb (SGp).


Good numbers of Eastern Phoebes were logged, with the 11 at Oakwood Bottoms, Jackson, IL 1 Jan representing the largest tally (KJM, TWf). Approximately 10 wintering Loggerhead Shrikes were reported, with one pair each in Richland, IL 14 Dec (CLH) and in Daviess, IN 6–15 Dec (AK, AMG, BM, MRB). Numbers of Northern Shrikes were perhaps slightly above average, being reported in 34 counties throughout the region. At Angel Mounds Historic Site, Vanderburgh, Indiana’s latest December White-eyed Vireo was seen 30 Dec (JMg); only one Jan record exists. Seven Fish Crows at Mermet Lake, Massac, IL 20 Feb (KAM) were likely spring migrants, as was one at Howell Wetlands Park, Vanderburgh 28 Feb (BM), which represented Indiana’s first February record.

The earliest Tree Swallows appeared on 18 Feb, the most notable of which was one at Nelson Lake Marsh Nature Preserve, Kane in northern Illinois 18 Feb (MM). Single Barn Swallows lingered at Lake Charleston, Coles, IL 5–7 Dec (RB, V&GT) and at Lake Sullivan, Sullivan 12 Dec (VWW), the latter Indiana’s third latest. A very good season for Red-breasted Nuthatches was punctuated by 10 at Sand Ridge S. F., Mason, IL 24 Dec (CD, TW), 10 at Horseshoe Lake Conservation Area, Alexander, IL 28 Dec (AG), and 9 at Deam Lake S. R. A., Clark, IN on New Year’s Day (T&CB). Brown Creepers were also reported in well above-average numbers, with the 13 tallied at the Tippecanoe amphitheater 20 Dec (MA) constituting Indiana’s second largest winter tally. An astounding 9 House Wrens were reported in Illinois, with 2 more reported in Indiana. Of note were a singleton at Ft. Defiance S. P., Alexander, IL 9 Feb that likely overwintered (MH), and a singing bird at Baugo Bay, Elkhart 18 Feb (EM) that provided Indiana’s second February record. A Sedge Wren at Goose Pond 22 Jan (RT) furnished Indiana’s second January record, and 2 at Horseshoe Lake S. P., Madison, IL 14–19 Feb (KAM, FRH) likely overwintered. Among the 14 total Marsh Wrens reported (12 in Illinois and an additional 2 in Indiana), the maximum count was 3 at Bailey Wetlands, Richland, IL 12 Dec (CLH).   

A male and female Mountain Bluebird were seen along Spring Lake Rd., Carroll, IL 14 Dec (†EAA, RWN); the male, first seen 9 Dec, was also resighted 1 Jan & 14–17 Feb (CB, ph. EB, ph. AS, ph. †DTW, m. ob.). Three Townsend’s Solitaires were reported: one that was discovered at Rock Cut S. P., Winnebago, IL in late Nov remained through 2 Jan (RF, ph. BCW, ph. †DTW, m. ob.) and was seen again 2 Feb (BG); another was at Sand Ridge S. F., Mason, IL 3–5 Dec (†CD, v.r. †AGt); and a third at Perkinsville Cemetery 12 Jan+ (TB) provided the first Madison, IN record. A late Wood Thrush was in Chicago’s Lincoln Park 5 Dec (ASA, SJH, m. ob.). A high seasonal total of Hermit Thrushes reported was highlighted by a tally of 11 on the Patoka Lake C. B. C., in Crawford, Dubois, and Orange on 20 Dec (J&SH), furnishing Indiana’s second highest winter count. The only Varied Thrush reported from the region was at Air Station Park, Cook, IL 5 Dec (MMC). A Bohemian Waxwing in Lake Forest, Lake, IL 1 Jan (ENL, ph. EBa, ph. OB, m. ob.) welcomed in the new year.

Notable were large migrating flocks of 120 and 100 American Pipits in Richland, IL 27 Feb (CLH) and in northern Lawrence, IN 15 Dec (DR), respectively. Purple Finches appeared in above average numbers, and included counts of 39 at Loud Thunder Forest Preserve, Rock Island, IL 24 Dec (KJM, DO); 24 in French Lick, Orange, IN 21 Feb (J&KL); and 25 in southern Monroe, IN 25 Feb (JB). Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins were very scarce throughout the region with high counts of only 10 and 12, respectively. An excellent count of 500 American Goldfinches was made at Carlyle 23 Dec (DMK). An estimated 2500 Lapland Longspurs near Posey, Clinton, IL 18 Dec (DMK) was impressive, as were the 700 Snow Buntings north of Goshen, Elkhart, IN 10 Dec (RG).

A late Tennessee Warbler was at Montrose 5 Dec (LGM). Incredibly, there were more than 30 records of Orange-crowned Warbler scattered throughout the region, with the majority in the southern third. Especially notable was one photographed in South Elgin, Kane, in northern Illinois on 11 Feb (LS). Common Yellowthroats likely attempted to overwinter in the southern portion of the region, as they were present at four sites in each state and in all three winter months. Illinois locations were Oakwood Bottoms, Jackson, 1 Jan (KJM, TWf); Arklands, Perry 27 Jan (†KJM); Carlyle 5 Feb & 25 Feb (DMK); and Mermet Lake, Massac 20 Feb (KAM). Indiana locations were Hovey Lake F. W. A., Posey 31 Dec (JMg); Goose Pond (Goose Pond Unit 7) 1 Jan (SB), Wheatland, Knox 22 Jan (SBt); and Goose Pond (Beehunter Marsh Unit 4) 11 Feb (RG). Unprecedented were reports of more than 50 Palm Warblers, with high counts of 5 at the Grayville sewage ponds, White, IL 1 Dec (MAM) and at Cane Ridge W. M. A., Gibson, IN 1 Jan (ST, CN). Yellow-rumped Warblers were also reported in record numbers, with high counts on 28 Dec of 60 at Horseshoe Lake Nature Preserve, Alexander, IL (TR) and 50 at the oxbow near Lawrenceburg, Dearborn (DCr), the latter total providing the highest ever winter count in Indiana. The Yellow-throated Warbler that attended a feeder in Mooresville, Morgan, IN late in the Fall was still present 1 Jan (CBl), producing Indiana’s second January record.

It was a record-setting winter for Chipping Sparrows, with unprecedented seasonal totals and record high counts in Illinois of 42 in Alexander 28 Dec (KJM) and 36 in Metropolis, Massac, 30 Dec (RMR, CDe), and a record high count in Indiana of 26 on the Patoka Lake C. B. C., Crawford, Dubois, and Orange 20 Dec (J&SH). Harris’s Sparrows were reported from seven Illinois counties and from one in Indiana. The 2 birds at Two Rivers N. W. R., Calhoun, IL 28 Jan (CD, TW) represented the only location with multiple birds. Vesper Sparrow reports included singles along Spring Lake Rd., Carroll, IL 9 Dec (ph. EB) and in Putnam, IL 15 Dec (DH, TH); 2 near Mt. Vernon, Posey, IN 31 Dec (JM, BM); one at the Lynnville-Squaw Creek mine complex, Warrick, IN 6 Jan (JG, SG; and 2 near Lake Gibson, Gibson, IN 8 Jan (NB). The Indiana Lake Michigan lakefront’s all-time late record of Le Conte’s Sparrow occurred at Michigan City 12 Dec (ph. RJS, NK). The 54 Eastern Towhees logged 20 Dec on the Patoka Lake C. B. C., Crawford, Dubois, and Orange 20 Dec (J&SH) represented the highest ever winter count in Indiana. On 8 Jan, an adult Yellow-headed Blackbird was found in a large mixed blackbird flock northeast of Evansville, Warrick, IN (CN), and possibly the same bird was approximately seven miles south of that site on 23 Jan (JG); a female/immature was in Scott, IL 24 Feb (CD, TW). Numbers of Western Meadowlarks wintering in Illinois seem to be on the increase: 18 were in Cass 5 Feb (CD, TW) and 16 were at Carlyle 7 Jan (DMK).

A female Summer Tanager near Coal City, Grundy, IL 3 Dec (ph. DB) was unexpected, and another at Ogden Dunes, Porter 13 Dec (JCK) provided the first winter record for the Indiana Lake Michigan lakefront and ninth for Indiana. A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak in Metropolis, Massac, IL 20 Feb (AP) appears to have overwintered. At Chicago’s Jackson Park, Cook, an Indigo Bunting 8 Dec (AA, AH) was tardy. On 15 Dec, a Dickcissel was found on a farm in Marshall, IN (DY), and another that was photographed on a Crawford farm 18 Feb (ph. ST) provided Indiana’s fourth February record.

Report processed by Amy Davis, 3 Nov 2020.

Photos–Illinois & Indiana: Winter 2016–2017
Hover or click on each image to read the caption.