Published: January 17, 2023

Winter in Chicago—Get Outside!

MaryPat Hofer, Website Editor, Information Technology

Put on some layers and see what wonders of nature are waiting to be discovered.

It’s winter!

Winter in the Chicago region means cold temperatures and short daylight hours, and yet nature persists. Wearing warm layers, you too can still explore the outdoors. There are many things to see that are hidden in the summer, such as the structure of trees and nests of various creatures. Look for overwintering birds and evidence of wildlife tracks. It's often much quieter and more peaceful, as there are fewer people out and about. These field guides help you recognize some of the natural wonders you might otherwise miss.

Beginner's Field Guide: Winter in Chicagoland

This guide will help you get to know the plants and animals that are spending winter in your Chicago area neighborhood. These are just a few of the many birds, mammals, insects, trees, spiders and more that live in backyards, under logs, in gardens, and in nearby parks or forest preserves. Learn their common names in both English and Spanish, and their scientific names too!

Common Winter Birds of Chicagoland

This guide is meant to help identify most of the birds that inhabit the Chicago area in winter. These are birds that live in parks, neighborhoods, gardens, beaches, and open water, including Lake Michigan. It might even cover the birds you see at your bird feeders. If you see birds that are not included here, try consulting a field guide such as The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America to find the correct identification.

Chicago Region Trees in Winter

Although winter tree identification can be more challenging without cues such as leaves and flowers, it is not impossible: by looking at trees’ and shrubs’ bark, buds, leaf scars, and the placement of these structures on the twig/trunk we are able to distinguish a variety of woody vegetation. This guide aims to help decode winter trees that grow around us.

Snowflakes from the Field Museum Photo Archives

The snow crystals or snowflakes photo collection is composed of 19 glass plate negatives from the 19th century (1896-1898), and 20 prints. Part of the Geology Department, the prints are tagged by "Physical Geology" and "Frost Action" items.

The photographs were made using the photomicrographic technique used by Wilson A. Bentley, who developed the equipment and techniques to take photographs of individual snowflakes.

Go, explore!

Keep your eyes open for wildlife on walks in your neighborhood. Head to your local park or closest nature center. Enjoy the hidden beauty of winter trees and plants, and see for yourself what critters are out there. And look on the bright side, now is time to plan your garden. Spring is on the horizon.

More Field Guides

The Field Museum Field Guides are free, accessible resources filled with beautiful images and scientific information to help people engage with the diversity of nature and culture on our planet. Access thousands of field guides from around the world co-created by scientists, educators, local communities, and indigenous leaders.

MaryPat Hofer
Website Editor

MaryPat is currently the web editor for Field Museum websites, including the main public website and the Field Guides website.

She started as a volunteer in 2014 working with the Communications team on a previous verion of the website. She has been the full-time web editor since July 2022.