Indiana Dunes State Park occupies 2,182 acres in Northwest Indiana. It was established in 1925, as Indiana’s 5th state park. The rare collection of habitats and associated plants and animals has long been recognized as one of the most biologically rich areas in the country.
Within the boundaries of Indiana Dunes State Park one can find lake, beach, foredunes, dune forests, dune swamps, prairie, and savanna habitat. This mixture helps support a vast variety of bird species, and supports many migrating birds as they funnel along the lakeshore during migration.
While any trail can find a good variety of birds, trails 2 and 10 are by far the most popular with birders.Trail 2 circles the Great Marsh and traverses it on a mile-long boardwalk. Trail 2 is a good spot for nesting woodland birds such as Hooded Warbler, Veery, and Red-shouldered Hawk. Kirtland’s Warbler has also been found here. Trail 10 follows behind the high dunes, and comes back along the beach. A variety of forestland and savanna habitat is passed on this hike. Birding opportunities exist at the east end of the park where Trail 10 passes through the Pinery and Paradise Valley. Trails 7 and 8 crisscross the high dunes where migrant passerines can be found when the winds are calmer. Whippoorwills are also common on summer evenings in the high dunes. Trail 3 is a short unique trail that starts at the bird observation area (old green tower) and passes through open high dunes, savanna, and finally prairie habitat on the west end of the park. Trail 9 is also a good trail to visit the park’s high dunes and blowout features. Summer Tanager and Prairie Warbler have been seen in recent years in the blowouts.
Along the lakeshore, the bird observation area (old green tower) located on a dune west of the West Beach Parking Lot offers birders a good vantage point for migrating waterfowl, passerines, and hawks. The former tower has been replaced with an accessible birding platform now. Both Dunes area and state record high counts for individual birds have been recorded from the old green tower. Some species counts include: Eastern Kingbird (418; state record), Cliff Swallow (120; Dunes area record), Cape May Warbler (21; Dunes area record), and Scarlet Tanager (61; state record). Record counts have also been tallied for Northern Flicker (600; state record) and counts around 100 have been made of Baltimore Oriole.
Visitors should not pass up an opportunity to visit the park’s Nature Center. Information on the park itself, and recent bird sightings can be found there. The bird feeder area often hosts winter finches before other areas of the state, and gives good glimpses at some of the more common species.
The area around the main beach is handicapped-accessible, with concrete pads offering good views of the lake. The park’s Nature Center keeps an all-terrain wheelchair available for free use with a driver’s license deposit. The park’s wheelchair opens up most of the park for the disabled visitor.
Typical Time to Bird Site: 2-8 hours, though all-day vigils are conducted from the bird observation area.
Overview: Indiana Dunes State Park hosts a variety of bird groups. During migration waves of warblers, vireos, flycatchers, thrushes, tanagers, winter finches, and some sparrows can be found. The lake offers loons, scoters, ducks, and gulls. A few jaegers are sighted yearly, but Michigan City and Miller Beach often offer better glimpses.
Red-throated Loon – Logged almost every year from the lakewatch locations. Most are November birds, but a few are sighted in the winter months.
Scoters – All three species can be seen in October and November.
Jaegers – Seen flying over the water during October and November.
Red-shouldered Hawk – Nesting pair can be found traditionally on Trail 2 near the Wilson Shelter.
Pileated Woodpecker – Calling birds can be found throughout park, but most reliable on Trail 2 and 10.
Red headed Woodpecker – Scattered throughout the park, but abundant during the fall if there is a good acorn crop.
Olive-sided Flycatcher – May and September; best found on the trails from the Wilson Shelter.
Wood Thrush – Common nester in back dune forests.
Veery – Singing birds most often heard on Trail 2
Blackburnian Warbler – Possible nesting on State Park Road (southern boundary road found when arriving into park).
Prothonotary Warbler – Traditionally found on Wilson Shelter footbridge.
Canada Warbler – Presumed nester in park. Also found on State Park Road.
Prairie Warbler – Found in high dunes and dune blowouts. Trail 9 is a good place to try.
Pine Warbler – Presumed nester in park. Singing males can be heard on Trail 3 and in Jack Pines by campground gate.
Pine Siskin – In fall and winter at Nature Center feeders.
Cackling Goose – November
Pacific Loon 6-3-03
Little Blue Heron 5-20-02
Harlequin Duck 3-15-03
Northern Goshawk 3-15-03
Thayer’s Gull 4-10-02
Little Gull 4-13-03
Great Black-backed Gull
Eurasian Collared-Dove 4-1-03
White-winged Dove 4-2-03
Loggerhead Shrike 4-11-02
Townsend’s Solitaire 3-9-03
Kirtland’s Warbler 5-10-03
Smith’s Longspur 4-13-03
Yellow-headed Blackbird 5-11-02
Evening Grosbeak 10-27-07
Pine Grosbeak 11-9-85
General site information
Ownership: Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks and Reservoirs.
Telephone numbers: Park office: 219-926-1952. Nature Center: 219-926-1390.
Hours: Park open 7am to 11pm daily.
Fees: Entrance fees collected daily through early November. $4.00 in-state weekday, $5.00 in-state weekend, $10.00 out of state vehicles.
Restrooms: Modern restrooms on property.
Lodging: Lodging is available 3 miles south in Chesterton. Several hotels (Best Western, Hilton Garden, Econolodge) are located in town on SR 49. The Spring House Inn is 3 miles west on US 20, and offers a quiet, quaint atmosphere similar to the State Park Inns. Camping is available at the state park yearound. Electric with modern restrooms. Dunewood (National Lakeshore) Campground is located 6 miles east and offers non-electric camping April-November.
Temporal Considerations: Fall migration (August through November) is by far the best time to visit the Dunes State Park, however good numbers of spring migrants can be found in April and May. Rare breeding birds can still be found singing in June and July. The Nature Center feeders are best to watch after a cold front has moved through in October and November.
Special Considerations: During major summer weekends the park is full of visitors. Don’t expect migrating birds on the beach when the weather is warm. Hiking the trails in the early morning is the best bet to avoid human traffic. Hikers who walk in at least one mile are often rewarded with the best solitude.
Brock, Kenneth J. Birds of the Indiana Dunes. Revised Edition. The Shirley Heinze Environmental Fund, 1997.
White, Mel. National Geographic Guide to Birdwatching Sites – Eastern U.S. Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society, 1999.
Author: Brad Bumgardner
Editor: Dick Patterson
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Indiana Audubon Society's mission is to stimulate interest in birds and their protection; to serve the needs of youth, civic, church, schools and other groups by providing information concerning birds; and to educate the public concerning the necessity for conserving and preserving Indiana's natural heritage, its unique flora and fauna.