Glacial kettle surrounded by mesic upland prairie and Eurasian grass meadows
Waterfowl and grassland birds
391 acres, 0.6-mile footpath, fishing area
Behind the Scenes
A proposed asphalt multi-use trail would lead from entrance to parking lot
From I-355, exit at Lake St (Rte 20). Go east to Mill Rd, turn north. Entrance is on west side of Mill, 1.5 miles up. Cross Burnham Ave. Parking lot is on left
Into the Wild
Songbird Slough Forest Preserve
DuPage County, IL
Photo: Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
For many, Songbird Slough Forest Preserve is an unassuming stretch of open space rising to the northeast of the junction of I-290 and I-355. But for local birders looking to add spring migrants to their life lists, this 391-acre parcel of converted farmland with over 70 recorded migrant species is a Chicago Wilderness hot spot.
A little over a quarter-mile in fromthe entrance on Mill Road, a small parking lot marks the beginning of a 0.6-mile gravel footpath that curves southeast through a wetland meadow filled with Eurasian grasses, planted after farming operations ceased. This time of year, pockets on either side of the trail swell into chorus-frog-filled ephemeral ponds. Further along and past the power lines (and the watchful eye of a sharp-shinned hawk, American kestrel, or Cooper’s hawk), two deeper depressions hold water year-round. Easily overlooked by first-time birders drawn to the main slough, these ponds have been known to board traveling ring-necked ducks, northern shovelers, canvasbacks, common goldeneyes, and lesser scaups. The end of the trail runs along the northern edge of an old nursery, which provides wooded habitat for black-capped chickadees, catbirds, and rose-breasted grosbeaks.
The forest preserve’s paved entrance road continues for another mile to the main parking lot near the 22-acre namesake “Songbird Slough,” a kettle (or glacially formed depression) that is the low point of a natural 1,000-acre watershed. In the early 1990s, as part of a larger engineering effort to provide flood relief to surrounding neighborhoods, the district excavated along the north end of the slough to form the 15-acre “Songbird Lake,” which flows seamlessly into the slough. The lake not only increased the land’s water-storage capacity but also created a popular fishing hole.
Songbird Slough is surrounded in places by an impenetrable wall of cattails and other emergent vegetation, highly attractive breeding grounds for wood ducks and blue-winged teals. Ongoing restoration efforts have kept populations of invasive purple loosestrife in check (and even in retreat) along the shoreline. Spring migrants such as the horned grebe take advantage of the slough to rest and refuel on their way north.
Photo: Rob Curtis/The Early Birder
By midyear, grasses in the large mesic upland prairie west of the slough bob under the weight of perching songbirds. Bobolinks, eastern meadowlarks, savanna sparrows, yellow warblers, eastern kingbirds, song sparrows, and even state-threatened Henslow’s sparrows rely on this habitat, which benefits from prescription fires and the reseeding of native flora.
Songbird Slough is open from one hour after sunrise to one hour after sunset and welcomes pet owners with their leashed dogs. Visitors can find portable toilets and a shelter near the main parking lot. For more information, call (630) 933-7200 or visit the DuPage County Forest Preserve District online.
— Jayne Bohner