Eagle Creek Park and Eagle Creek Reservoir are located just outside of the I-465 loop on Indianapolis’s northwest side. The Lilly pharmaceutical family began acquiring and maintaining the land as a nature preserve in 1936, continuing further land acquisitions for 22 years. Now comprising more than 4,400 acres, Eagle Creek Park is one of the nation’s largest city parks, with some 10 miles of trails and a wide variety of habitats. The park contains deciduous woodlands, conifers, brushy early successional areas, grasslands, mudflats, creeks, ponds, and a large reservoir. Because of this tremendous diversity of habitat, birding can be rewarding at any time of year.
The park can be entered from the north at the 71st Street entrance (North Gate) or from the south at the 56th Street entrance (South Gate). Eagle Creek Parkway is the main road running north-south through the park, with the reservoir lying just west of it. The principle road running east-west through the park is 62nd Street. Upon entering the park, one should obtain a park map to locate the following areas of special interest.
The Eagle Creek Park Ornithology Center is located on the west side of Eagle Creek Parkway, just south of the 71st Street Entrance – watch for the sign. The building sits atop a hill overlooking the Bird Sanctuary, a large area of retained water separated from the reservoir by Coffer Dam. The windows at the back of the Ornithology Center, and the wooden deck immediately to the south of it, both offer limited views of the Bird Sanctuary. Inside the Ornithology Center, an air-conditioned viewing room with one-way windows looks out onto a hummingbird garden and feeder area. The building contains dioramas depicting typical bird habitat with taxidermy specimens of different species of birds. There are interactive displays to teach children and adults about the various aspects of bird life. The 38-acre arboretum that encompasses the Ornithology Center and nearby Lilly Lodge is an excellent place to look for passerines during migration. A group of thirty Turkey Vultures roosts in the trees behind the Ornithology Center and can be found there in the early morning during the summer.
Loons, grebes, waterfowl, waders, shorebirds, gulls, terns, flycatchers, thrushes, vireos, and warblers are all regular in season at Eagle Creek.
Double-crested Cormorants are often perched on or near the boulders in the middle of the Bird Sanctuary as long as open water is available.
American Woodcock can be heard calling at dawn and dusk near the Ice Skating Pond and at the playground on Eagle Creek Parkway from mid-March through early May.
Willow Flycatchers breed annually at Coffer Dam, the Ice Skating Pond, and the western edge of the North Loop (near the lake).
Philadelphia Vireos can be found in the mowed field lanes east of the Ice Skating Pond and south along the paved road that lies further east of the pond. Watch for them in the fall as they feed on the berries of the many dogwood trees in this area.
Pacific Loon – (Oct-1997)
Red-necked Grebe – (12-Mar-1972) – now seen every year
Eared Grebe – (25-Jan-1989)
Brown Pelican – (15-May-2004)
American White Pelican – (01-06-Apr-1989); (24-25-Oct-1988) – now yearly
Tricolored Heron – (08-09-Jul-1979)
Trumpeter Swan – (12-May-1988)
Eurasian Wigeon – (recent spring record)
Surf Scoter – (Nov-1997) – now yearly
Mississippi Kite – (9-Aug-2008)
Northern Goshawk – (Nov-1995)
Swainson’s Hawk – (25-Apr-1996)
Yellow Rail – (28-Apr-1989)
Piping Plover – (16-18-Aug-1989)
American Avocet – (27-Aug-1972); (16-Aug-1986); (Nov-1995); (07-Aug-1997); (01-06-Oct-1999)
Hudsonian Godwit – (05-15-Oct-1988)
Marbled Godwit – (18-Aug-1985)
Laughing Gull – (17-May-1986); (02-May-1987); (06-Apr-1989)
Franklin’s Gull – (2-May-1987); (08-Oct-1997); (several other recent fall sight records)
Glaucous Gull – (04-05-Mar-1990)
Great Black-backed Gull – (20-Dec-1997 through 01-Jan-1998)
Black-legged Kittiwake – (25-Oct-1988)Ross’s Gull – (04-Nov-1995)
California Gull – (19-Jul-1980)Least Tern – (10-Sept-1983)
Northern Saw-whet Owl – (Dec-1995 through Jan-1996)
Western Kingbird – (28-Aug-1977)
Clay-colored Sparrow – (2-May-1987)
Yellow-headed Blackbird – (8-May-1976)
Keller, Charles E. “The Birds of Greater Indianapolis and the Adjacent Area.” Indiana Audubon Quarterly 70.1 (1992): 1-50.
Keller, Charles E. “Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) Occurs in Marion County, Indiana.” Indiana Audubon Quarterly 68.3 (1990): 140.
Keller, Charles E., and Timothy C. Keller. Birds of Indianapolis: A Guide to the Region. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.
Keller, Charles E., Shirley A. Keller, and Timothy C. Keller. Indiana Birds and Their Haunts: A Checklist and Finding Guide. Second Edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.
Peavler, Larry. “Ross’ Gull – A New Addition to the Avifauna of Indiana.” Indiana Audubon Quarterly 74.1 (1996): 52-3.
Pettingill Jr., Olin Sewall. A Guide to Bird Finding East of the Mississippi. Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Seng, Phil T., and David J. Case. Indiana Wildlife Viewing Guide. Helena, MT: Falcon Press, 1992.
Starling, Al, and Sheila Smith. “Birds of Big Eagle Creek Valley: Summer and Fall, 1969.” Indiana Audubon Quarterly 48.2 (1970): 72-7.
White, Mel. National Geographic Guide to Birdwatching Sites – Eastern U.S. Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society, 1999. Eagle Creek Park Foundation, Inc.An informative website with up-to-date news and a calendar of events.
Authors: Charlie Keller, Bill Murphy and Becky Lomax-Sumner
Additional species accounts: Larry Peavler
Editors: Darel Heitkamp and 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.