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24 White Birds in Illinois

white birds in illinois
Ross’s Goose in Chicago, Illinois: Photo by Emily Tallo


Illinois, with its diverse ecosystems, is home to an array of stunning white birds. In this guide, we’ll explore the enchanting world of these avian residents, their unique features, preferred locations, and the importance of conserving their habitats.

Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens)

  • Features: The Snow Goose, a symbol of the Arctic, boasts predominantly white plumage with black wingtips. During migration, vast flocks create a breathtaking spectacle in the skies.
  • Locations: Snow Geese can be observed during migration, making stops in various habitats such as lakes, marshes, and agricultural fields across Illinois.
  • Fun Fact: Known for their remarkable long-distance migrations, Snow Geese travel thousands of miles between their Arctic breeding grounds and wintering areas in the southern United States.

Ross’s Goose (Anser rossii)

  • Features: Resembling the Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose is smaller with a shorter bill and lacks the “grin patch.” It exhibits a captivating all-white plumage.
  • Locations: Ross’s Geese are occasional visitors during migration, often seen in the company of Snow Geese. Wetlands and agricultural fields are favored spots for these elegant birds.
  • Fun Fact: Recognized by their distinctive high-pitched calls, Ross’s Geese contribute their voices to the symphony of migration.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

  • Features: The Mute Swan, an embodiment of elegance, displays entirely white plumage, a long neck, and an orange bill adorned with a black knob.
  • Locations: Mute Swans can be found in various freshwater habitats across Illinois, including lakes, ponds, and rivers.
  • Fun Fact: Originally from Europe, Mute Swans were introduced to North America for ornamental reasons, and their graceful presence has sparked both admiration and debate.

Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)

  • Features: As North America’s largest waterfowl, the Trumpeter Swan boasts a majestic all-white plumage and a resonant honking call.
  • Locations: Wetlands, lakes, and rivers in Illinois serve as habitats for Trumpeter Swans, a species that has seen successful reintroduction efforts.
  • Fun Fact: Trumpeter Swans form strong pair bonds and engage in elaborate courtship displays, showcasing their commitment to lifelong mates.

Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)

  • Features: Slightly smaller than Trumpeter Swans, Tundra Swans possess a distinctive yellow spot at the base of their bill.
  • Locations: Illinois witnesses the migration of Tundra Swans, with these birds making stopovers in wetlands during their long journeys.
  • Fun Fact: Tundra Swans undertake one of the longest migrations, traveling from their Arctic breeding grounds to wintering areas in the southern United States.

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)

  • Features: The Long-tailed Duck, known for its striking appearance, features a white body, black markings, and a long, slender tail.
  • Locations: During winter, Long-tailed Ducks can be spotted along the Great Lakes and other water bodies in Illinois.
  • Fun Fact: With their distinctive calls and intricate courtship displays, Long-tailed Ducks add charm to Illinois’ winter birdwatching experiences.

Black-necked/White-backed Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)

  • Features: The Black-necked Stilt, or White-backed Stilt, is characterized by its striking black-and-white plumage, long legs, and thin, straight bill.
  • Locations: Shallow marshes and wetlands in Illinois are preferred habitats for these striking shorebirds.
  • Fun Fact: Black-necked Stilts are known for their distinctive high-stepping walk, allowing them to navigate through shallow waters in search of food.

Gray Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

  • Features: Also known as the Black-bellied Plover during the breeding season, the Gray Plover is a medium-sized shorebird with a distinctive appearance.
  • Locations: Along the coastlines of Illinois, Gray Plovers forage for invertebrates in sandy and muddy areas during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Gray Plovers embark on impressive migrations, breeding in Arctic tundra and traveling thousands of miles to wintering grounds in the southern hemisphere.

Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

  • Features: Bonaparte’s Gull is a graceful bird with a white body, gray wings, and black wingtips. During the breeding season, it develops a dark hood.
  • Locations: Coastal areas and inland lakes in Illinois become havens for Bonaparte’s Gulls during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Unlike many gull species, Bonaparte’s Gulls build nests in trees, showcasing their unique nesting habits.

Franklin’s Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan)

  • Features: Franklin’s Gull is recognized by its white face, dark hood, and pinkish bill. It exhibits a distinctive appearance during the breeding season.
  • Locations: Wetlands and lakeshores in Illinois provide feeding grounds for Franklin’s Gulls during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Franklin’s Gulls are agile fliers and are known for their graceful aerial displays during the breeding season.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

  • Features: A common sight in Illinois, the Ring-billed Gull is characterized by its medium size, white body, and a distinctive black ring around its yellow bill.
  • Locations: Lakeshores, rivers, and urban areas in Illinois attract Ring-billed Gulls, where they forage for various food items.
  • Fun Fact: Ring-billed Gulls are opportunistic feeders, adapting to various environments and displaying clever foraging techniques.

American Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

  • Features: The American Herring Gull is a large species with a white body, gray wings, and a yellow bill with a red spot.
  • Locations: Coastal areas, lakeshores, and urban environments in Illinois serve as habitats for American Herring Gulls.
  • Fun Fact: Highly adaptable, American Herring Gulls thrive in diverse environments, from pristine coastal areas to urban landscapes.

Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus)

  • Features: The Glaucous Gull is a robust gull species with a white body, pale gray wings, and a large, powerful bill.
  • Locations: Rare winter visitors to Illinois, Glaucous Gulls can be spotted along the state’s coastlines.
  • Fun Fact: Glaucous Gulls breed in Arctic regions and undertake long-distance migrations during the non-breeding season.

Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)

  • Features: Resembling the Glaucous Gull, the Iceland Gull is known for its pristine white plumage and graceful flight.
  • Locations: Iceland Gulls are occasional winter visitors to Illinois, adding to the diversity of the state’s winter birdlife.
  • Fun Fact: Iceland Gulls breed in the Arctic and migrate south during the winter, showcasing their remarkable adaptability to cold climates.

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia)

  • Features: The Caspian Tern, with its large size and distinctive black cap, is a striking sight along Illinois’ water bodies. Its white body and deeply forked tail make it easily identifiable.
  • Locations: Caspian Terns frequent coastal areas, lakeshores, and rivers in Illinois, where they hunt for fish with spectacular aerial dives.
  • Fun Fact: Caspian Terns are renowned for their aggressive defense of their nesting territories, engaging in aerial battles with intruders to protect their young.

Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri)

  • Features: Forster’s Tern is characterized by its slender build, white plumage, and deeply forked tail. During the breeding season, it develops a black cap.
  • Locations: Wetlands, marshes, and coastal areas in Illinois provide breeding and foraging grounds for Forster’s Terns.
  • Fun Fact: Forster’s Terns are skillful hunters, hovering over water bodies before plunging headfirst to catch fish with precision.

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

  • Features: The Common Tern exhibits a slender body, pale gray wings, and a white underside. During the breeding season, it develops a black cap.
  • Locations: Coastal areas and inland lakeshores in Illinois attract Common Terns during migration, where they engage in aerial feeding displays.
  • Fun Fact: Common Terns are highly migratory, traveling incredible distances between their breeding and wintering grounds across the Americas.

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

  • Features: The American White Pelican is a large water bird with distinctive white plumage, a long bill, and a wingspan that can exceed nine feet.
  • Locations: Wetlands, lakes, and rivers in Illinois serve as vital habitats for American White Pelicans during migration and breeding.
  • Fun Fact: American White Pelicans are cooperative feeders, often working together in groups to corral fish for easy capture.

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

  • Features: Despite its name, the Little Blue Heron exhibits striking white plumage as juveniles. Adults are blue-gray, hence their name.
  • Locations: Wetlands, marshes, and coastal areas in Illinois provide feeding grounds for Little Blue Herons during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Little Blue Herons are known for their unique feeding behavior, employing stealthy tactics to stalk fish in shallow waters.

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)

  • Features: The Snowy Egret is adorned with pristine white plumage, a slender black bill, and distinctive yellow feet.
  • Locations: Coastal marshes, wetlands, and estuaries in Illinois serve as habitats for Snowy Egrets during migration and breeding.
  • Fun Fact: Snowy Egrets are skilled hunters, using their bright yellow feet to stir up prey in muddy waters before striking with lightning speed.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

  • Features: The Great Egret, a majestic wader, boasts a slender build, all-white plumage, and a yellow bill.
  • Locations: Wetlands, lakeshores, and rivers in Illinois provide ideal habitats for Great Egrets during migration and breeding.
  • Fun Fact: Great Egrets employ various hunting techniques, from slow stalking to rapid lunging, to catch fish and other aquatic prey.

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)

  • Features: The Snowy Owl, a symbol of the Arctic, features pristine white plumage with black barring, piercing yellow eyes, and a rounded head.
  • Locations: During irruption years, Snowy Owls can be spotted in open habitats across Illinois, including fields, marshes, and airports.
  • Fun Fact: Snowy Owls are exceptional hunters, using their keen vision and stealth to catch prey ranging from rodents to waterfowl.

Northern Shrike (Lanius borealis)

  • Features: The Northern Shrike, also known as the “Butcher Bird,” is a small songbird with a gray back, white underside, and a distinctive black mask.
  • Locations: Open habitats, including fields and shrubby areas, in Illinois provide hunting grounds for Northern Shrikes during winter.
  • Fun Fact: Northern Shrikes are known for impaling their prey on thorns or barbed wire, earning them the nickname “Butcher Bird.”

Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea)

  • Features: The Common Redpoll is a small finch with a white belly, streaked sides, and a distinctive red forehead and black chin.
  • Locations: Open woodlands and weedy fields in Illinois provide feeding grounds for Common Redpolls during winter.
  • Fun Fact: Common Redpolls are highly social birds, often forming large flocks during the winter months, where they forage for seeds and buds.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss, pollution, and climate change pose significant threats to Illinois’ avian populations. Conservation efforts, including habitat restoration and protected areas, are crucial for safeguarding the habitats of these magnificent white birds.

Citizen Science Opportunities

Illinois residents can contribute to bird conservation efforts through citizen science initiatives such as eBird, bird counts, and habitat monitoring programs. By recording bird sightings and participating in research projects, individuals can play a vital role in understanding and protecting the state’s avian diversity.


Illinois’ white birds, with their grace, beauty, and ecological significance, enrich the state’s landscapes and inspire awe in bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. By prioritizing conservation efforts and engaging in citizen science initiatives, we can ensure a brighter future for these captivating species in the Prairie State.