Natural areas are open from dawn to dusk daily.
More than 150 different species of birds visit the 10 acre Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary each year. Among them six species of herons and bitterns (including black crowned night herons), wood ducks, hawks, yellow-billed cuckoos, hummingbirds, thrushes, vireos, 34 species of warblers, 18 native species of sparrows, and many more. The sanctuary is also home to many small mammals such as rabbit, raccoon, opossum, coyotes, and the occasional fox.
Though the core of the sanctuary is protected by a fence, visitors to Jarvis can still experience the shade of mature trees, and the pop of color from native flowers along a path that circles the fence. The bird viewing platform on the east side of the sanctuary is a hotspot for local birders, and the purple martin towers along the lakefront near the sanctuary provide an opportunity to closely observe these migratory birds during their summer nesting season.
The sanctuary was originally designed to mimic the shore landscape of Lake Michigan. Inside the protective fence are ridges with shallow ponds between them, draining to a marsh on the west side. The pond edges support plants unique species like skunk cabbage (Symplorocarpus foetidus), while the marsh contains plants like sweet flag (Acorus calamus).
Visitors can spot something blooming in the oak woodland and savanna areas of Jarvis nearly every month of the year. Spring blooming wildflowers include mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum), Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), and several species of trillium. Summer wildflowers include tall bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum), fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) and purple Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum). Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) and asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) provide color in autumn months and fallen leaves provide cover for feeding sparrows. The sanctuary also contains many species of sedges and woodland grasses such as bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix) and woodland brome (Bromus pubescens).
Much work has been done to bring the bird sanctuary to its current state of health. In addition to maintenance conducted by the park district, the Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary benefits from the hard work of community volunteers who collect and scatter native seed, plant native species, pick up trash, and remove invasive species. Learn more about these types of volunteer opportunities by visiting our Community Stewardship Program page.
Created in the early 1920s, the sanctuary escaped demolition in 1968 thanks to the mobilization of William Beecher, then director of the Chicago Academy of Science, and of Lake View residents, Bill Jarvis prominently among them. A passionate bird-watcher and native plant enthusiast, Bill Jarvis led a group of volunteers into an agreement with the Chicago Park District to restore and maintain the sanctuary. Following his death, the sanctuary was renamed in honor of Bill Jarvis and his efforts to protect this special place.