Seasons of Wildlife

Spring is the perfect time to visit and see native wildflowers and plants growing again. Many wildlife, like turtles, frogs and insect species spring back to life with the warmer weather. If you want to visit in the summer, be on the look out for migratory birds; most have completed their long journeys from the south by this point. With fall comes the hunting season. Many species of wildlife are gearing up for winter, while some species, like deer, are in the midst of their breeding seasons. You can also enjoy the winter season at the refuge by spending time looking for signs of wildlife in the snow, like tracks. Each season provides unique experiences!

Featured Species

The riverine wetlands and oak savanna of Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area are home to a variety of resident and migratory wildlife. A few species of interest are the black-crowned night heron, red-headed woodpecker and regal fritillary.  

Black-crowned night herons use the area’s wetlands, rivers and wet agricultural fields as resting and feeding places. They are most active at night or at dusk, when they leave daytime roosts to look for food. They are social birds that breed in colonies of stick nests, which are usually built over water. Look for them standing still or walking slowly at the edge of shallow water looking for food, focusing on small fish and crayfish. They also perch above water to fish. 

Red-headed woodpeckers are rare in most of the midwest today, but the important habitat and abundant food found in the refuge makes them more common here. Known as a “flying checkerboard,” the gorgeous red-headed woodpecker is a boldly patterned species with an entirely crimson head, a snow-white body and half white, half inky black wings. Not only are they eye-catching, but red-headed woodpeckers are also unique among woodpeckers in general in that they are adept at catching insects in the air. They also eat lots of acorns and beech nuts, frequently hiding away extra food in tree crevices for later. This magnificent species has declined severely in the past half-century because of habitat loss and changes to its food supply. 

The regal fritillary, a beautiful, bright red-orange butterfly with black markings, can be found in larger open grasslands, wet fields, remnant tallgrass prairie, damp meadows and marshes. It has a large wingspan measuring from 2.5 to 4 inches across. Once abundant, they are now becoming less common but can still be seen as they gather nectar from common milkweed, butterfly milkweed, swamp milkweed, wild bergamot, dogbane and native thistles. During the late summer months, also look for them among the violets, where they lay their eggs.