Montrose Point in Chicago is a mecca for birders and one of the most popular birding spots in Chicago. Over 340 species* have been recorded there over the years, including a staggering variety of rarities and vagrants, as well as several first state records. Among these are Magnificent Frigatebird, Reddish Egret, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Black Rail, Wandering Tattler, Ancient Murrelet, Slaty-backed, Ross’s, Black-tailed, and Ivory Gulls, Royal and Sandwich Terns, Burrowing Owl, Groove-billed Ani, Cassin’s Kingbird, Rock Wren, Sage Thrasher, Grace’s, Kirtland’s, and Townsend’s Warblers, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Painted Bunting, and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
Besides the unusual species, Montrose is an excellent place to observe migration, particularly the spring and fall passerine movement. What makes it so good? A combination of factors, including habitat diversity, location along a natural corridor for migrants, and the fact that Montrose Point protrudes well into Lake Michigan. These reasons are why Montrose is considered one of the best birding spots in Chicago. Additionally, the easy access, well-marked trails, and small size make it attractive to birders.
*Recent additions: Ancient Murrelet (November 9, 2019), Cassin’s Kingbird (September 22, 2019)
Location and Description
Montrose Point is located within Lincoln Park on the north side of Chicago. The area covered by this guide is bounded by North Lake Shore Drive and West Lawrence Avenue on the west, the mouth of Montrose Harbor on the south, and West Wilson Drive on the north. This includes Montrose Beach, Montrose Harbor, the small pond at the north end of the Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course, and Cricket Hill. On a map, Montrose Point looks like a curled arm bulging out into Lake Michigan. The link below opens an image that shows the boundaries of Montrose Point as defined in this guide.
To reach the main birding areas at Montrose Point, take West Montrose Avenue (4400 North) east until you reach West Montrose Harbor Drive. Turn right (east) at West Montrose Harbor Drive and proceed about 1/5 of a mile. You can park along either side of the road. The best birding areas, including the Magic Hedge and Montrose Dunes, are to the east and northeast. A series of well-marked foot trails and paths wind through the area. This Google Map shows the road system in and around Montrose Point.
The Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary is a subarea of Montrose Point. It includes the Magic Hedge, Meadow, and peripheral plantings. See the Montrose Glossary for a description of these terms. Also see the aerial photo of Montrose Point below
In terms of habitat, Montrose Point is open parkland, with scattered trees, copses, shrubs, hedgerows, and grassy fields. Montrose Beach Dunes is a foredune habitat that developed in recent years due to the low level of Lake Michigan. The Dunes consist of a diverse community of beach-loving plants, some of which are quite uncommon.
Aerial Photo of Montrose Point*
- 1) Montrose Harbor
- 2) Golf Course Pond
- 3) Cricket Hill
- 4) Montrose Beach
- 5) Fishing Pier
- 6) Montrose Dunes
- 7) The Meadow
- 8) Magic Hedge
- 9) Native Planting Area
In 2001 the entire eastern portion of Montrose Beach, including the nascent dunes, was fenced off as a protected nature area. Since then, the area is being restored to its natural state and exhibits much of the flora and fauna that is historical to our region.
In 2008 the southeast corner of the Point was fenced off to protect the vegetation and discourage cruising. Access to this area is forbidden, and if you do enter you could be arrested. See the Montrose FAQ page for Montrose do’s and don’ts.
A number of car break-ins occurred at Montrose during the summer of 2011. If you drive to Montrose always remember to roll up your windows, lock your doors, and take your valuables with you.
In 2013 the eastern panne in Montrose Dunes was cordoned off to protect the vegetation from trampling and disturbance. The western panne was cordoned off in 2014 for the same reason. Birders are asked to stay out of these areas.
A butterfly garden was established in 2016 in the field northwest of the Magic Hedge. The garden hosts native wildflowers to attract butterflies. It can also be good for a variety of passerines, especially sparrows.
Rising water levels on Lake Michigan have changed the shoreline dynamics at Montrose Point. The public portion of the beach is frequently flooded, reducing the amount of beach available to beachgoers, but creating habitat for gulls, terns, and shorebirds. Also, the winter of 2020 saw a couple of severe storms that flooded and damaged the Dunes, including the pannes. The effects of this damage will be long-lasting. A video of one of these storms is here – January 11, 2020 Storm.
On March 26, 2020, Chicago closed its lakefront parks to the public to limit the spread of COVID-19. The city reopened the lakefront trails on June 22, 2020. This includes the trails at Montrose Point. I wrote a blog post about the reopening – Montrose Is Open Again.
: : Geoff Williamson and Leslie Borns made important contributions to this guide.