Wildlife In Illinois (A List Of The Most Prolific Animals In Illinois)

Illinois has gorgeous topography that features shallow river valleys along with slopping hills. This state got the nickname “The Prairie State” since the word prairie makes people think of slightly rolling or flat farmlands. This kind of topography is also known to be home to a vast amount of wildlife. 

Illinois is full of all sorts of animals thanks to the many lowlands, rivers, and more. Some common animals you can spot in Illinois include coyotes, white-tailed deer, American robins, raccoons, hognose snakes, American toads, crappies, and more. 

Do you want to learn more about what this state has to offer regarding wildlife? Join us at Floofmania as we take a deep dive into animals in Illinois!

Animals That Are Typical For Illinois

Illinois is known for having a variety of animals, and some common examples include:

  • White-tailed deer
  • Swans
  • Cotton mice
  • Garter snakes
  • Bass
  • Raccoons
  • American robins
  • Gray treefrogs
  • Coyotes 

There are a lot more animals in this state, however, so keep reading to find out more!

The Official Animal of Illinois

The official mammal of Illinois is the white-tailed deer. While the white-tailed deer is currently nearly overpopulating the state, these creatures did not always thrive in Illinois.

The white-tailed deer was practically extinct in Illinois in the early 1900s because of land manipulation by humans and overhunting, and more. All these factors made it difficult for the deer population to thrive.

The white-tailed deer were reintroduced to the state in the 1930s, but the population was still declining. In 1957, the state issued a deer hunting season to keep people from overhunting, which led to the eventual increase in the deer population.

As for birds, the northern cardinal is Illinois’ state bird. Illinois students chose this bird to be their state bird in 1929, and some of their options included the bluebird, oriole, quail, and meadowlark.

The Most Common Mammals In Illinois

With Illinois’s mostly flat topography, various water sources, and more, there are tons of mammals to be found. Some common mammals include:

1. White-Tailed Deer

The face of a white-tailed deer with blurred-out green grass in the background.

There are two facts you should know about the white-tailed deer in Illinois: They are one of the most common mammals you will find and they are the state animal!

Once nearly extinct in the state, white-tailed deer are currently very numerous in Illinois and can be found statewide. It is estimated that there were 640,000-680,000 deer in 2022 alone!

The white-tailed deer is a distinguished animal with long legs with pointed and narrow hooves, and the males have broad antlers. They have a mixture of brown and white fur with white fur on their undersides that extends to their tails, hence the name “white-tailed deer.”

Fact: While they are obviously land animals, white-tailed deer are great swimmers and often run through water to escape predators.

2. Raccoons

Close-up of the face of a raccoon on a dark background.

Similar to the white-tailed deer, raccoons are common in Illinois and can be found statewide. While you can find them in nature, raccoons are scavengers that can be found in urban areas where they will eat whatever food they can find, including garbage! 

Raccoons resemble small bears with pointed snouts, which is why some people call them “trash pandas.” They have a unique fur pattern, which consists of mostly white, black, and dark brown fur. They have a stripe of black fur across their eyes, making them look like “bandits.”

3. Red Foxes

A red fox sitting on grass in a in front of greenery.

Red foxes are populous animals in Illinois, typically being found in brushy areas, bottomland woods, field edges, and grasslands. However, they are also spotted near urban areas and farms.

The fox is part of the canine family, which can be seen in their long snouts and bushy tails. As you can guess from the name, they have predominantly orangey-red fur, white snouts and underbellies, and black-brown legs. 

Learn more about foxes by reading our related article, “Red Fox Species: Origin, Animal Type, Adaptations, and More!

4. Striped Skunks

A striped skunk sitting on the forest floor.

Another mammal you will find throughout the state is the striped skunk. The striped skunk can normally be seen in open woods, weedy roadsides, and grassy fence roads, which are perfect habitats for them in which to hunt and find shelter. 

Being part of the subfamily of weasels, skunks have long bodies with small heads. These animals are very easy to identify because they have black fur with two white stripes that spread across the back to their bushy tails. They also have a white stripe of fur on their foreheads.

Skunks are best known for having an extremely musky smell created from a gland under their tails. When they feel threatened, skunks will release the musk and “spray” their targets.

Fact: A skunk’s spray can hit a target from up to 10 feet away, but their stinky stench can be smelled up to 1.5 miles from where the skunk sprayed!

5. North American Beavers

An American beaver sitting in long, green grass with itws eyes wide open.

Like the white-tailed deer, the North American beaver population took a hit in the late 1800s and early 1900s, likely becoming extirpated during the early 1900s. Now, beavers are one of the most common mammals in Illinois and can be found in backwaters, lakes, streams, ponds, ditches, and canals.

Beavers have stocky bodies covered in yellowy-brown to nearly black fur, orange teeth that always grow, and a flat, wide scaly tail. Since beavers spend a lot of time in the water, their back paws are webbed but their front paws have semi-opposable small fingers!

You can learn more about where beavers can be found in our article, “Where Can Beavers Be Found?

The Most Common Birds In Illinois

Illinois is home to many species of birds, and a few common ones you can spot are:

1. Northern Cardinals

A Northern cardinal sitting on an electronic device with a wooden structure blurred out behind it.

The northern cardinal is a common bird in Illinois, which might also be why the bird was chosen as the state bird. They can live in a variety of places, such as thickets, woodlands, and even residential parks.

These songbirds are 7-9 inches tall with their signature look of bright-red feathers with a patch of black feathers on their beak.

The northern cardinal sings quick songs comprised of short chirps, which sound like this:

2. American Crows

American crows are year-round residents of Illinois that are easy to find. These birds partially migrate though, so the crows in northern Illinois fly to central Illinois during the winter and return to the northern side in spring.

Crows are easy to spot thanks to their black feathers, feet, and beak. They are known for being mischievous, curious, and smart, being one of the smartest animals next to primates.

Fact: Crows are loyal creatures that will often mate for life, and will remain with their mate even if the other is injured. 

3. Common Starlings

Common starlings are one of the most common birds found in the state. They can be found all over Illinois except for areas with heavy forests.

Whilst being common, these birds are not native to Illinois or North America. They were introduced to North America in the late 1800s to early 1900s by Shakespeare fans in the nineteenth century, and the first one spotted in Illinois was in 1922.

These birds have distinguishable coats, having dominantly black feathers that are glossy and shiny hues of green and purple when you look closely.

4. Common Yellowthroats

Common yellowthroats are frequent migrant birds in Illinois. You can usually find them during the summer in marshes, fields, thickets, swamps, and old fields.

As you can guess by the name, these birds have bright yellow feathers around their throats along with their tails and parts of their backs with white bellies. They have black feathers on their faces that resemble a mask, which is framed by white feathers.

5. American Robins

American robins are one of the most common birds in the United States, and Illinois is no exception. They are normally seen in the summer but are sometimes spotted during winter as they migrate south.

These birds have grayish-brown feathers down their backs with dark heads. They are distinguished by their orange beak and orangey-red underbellies.

The Most Common Amphibians In Illinois

Illinois has its fair share of swamps, lakes, streams, and other bodies of water that house many amphibians, such as:

1. Gray Treefrogs

Gray treefrogs are a common species of amphibians in Illinois, and they can be found statewide. There are two types of gray treefrogs in Illinois: Cope’s gray treefrog and the gray treefrog.

Gray treefrogs often make short chirps or weep noises, which can sound like a bark! Here is an example:

(Click to see video on YouTube.)

2. American Toads

American toads are fairly populous in Illinois. They can be found in almost all prairie and forested areas of Illinois along with agricultural and urban areas given that there is a source of water nearby for mating.

These toads make a unique call, which is a 20-30 second long trill that sounds like an alarm. Have a listen:

3. Spotted Salamanders

Spotted salamanders are a common sight in most of Illinois. They are found near creeks and swamps in low forests in southern Illinois and in mixed and deciduous forests in northern Illinois.

Spotted salamanders are easy to spot (pun intended) thanks to the yellow spots that are scattered throughout their dominantly black bodies.

The Most Common Reptiles In Illinois

Illinois currently has 62 documented species of reptiles, and here are some of the most common ones:

1. Snapping Turtles

Snapping turtles are found statewide in Illinois, often being seen in any permanent body of water.

While they are primarily aquatic creatures, you can see them walk on land when they decide to move to a different water source, but do not go near them: they are aggressive and will bite you with their sharp beak-like mouths!

Fact: Snapping turtles live long lives, often living up to 50 years old in the wild. In captivity, they can outlive their owners if they are well taken care of because they can get up to 100 years old!

2. Western Hognose Snakes

Western hognose snakes are one of the more common snake species in Illinois. You can find them in Kankakee County, the upper Mississippi River, and the central Illinois river

These snakes are easily distinguished by their mouths, which have upturned and pointed snouts. Their scales can be brown, reddish, tan, or gray with dark blotches throughout their bodies.

3. Garter Snakes

A rolled-up gater snake under brown straws and branches.

The common garter snake stays true to its name by being a common snake found statewide in Illinois. They live in empty city lots, stream edges, hillsides, woodlands, marshes, and meadows.

Usually, they have three stripes (that can be brown, green, blue, yellow, or white) that run along their bodies, and their bodies can be olive, gray, black, or brown.

4. Five-Lined Skinks

A five-lined skink lying in the sun on a rock formation.

The five-lined skink is a common reptile found in the southern half of Illinois. They can be found in tons of places, like woodlots, rock piles, farm buildings, and more as long as there is rotting vegetation because they use rotting vegetation to hide.

They have gray or black bodies with five creamy-colored stripes running down their bodies. The males often have orange patches on their chins and jaws during mating season to attract female skinks.

The Most Common Fish In Illinois

Illinois has 3 big reservoirs, 84,000 ponds, and 2,900 lakes that have a lot of fish, including:

1. Bass

A fisherman holding a bass in its mouth in front of a lake.

Bass is so common in Illinois that there is even a lake called Bass Lake! There are many types of bass, such as:

  • Largemouth bass
  • Smallmouth bass 
  • Yellow bass
  • Striped bass
  • Spotted bass
  • White bass

2. Crappie

A hand holding a crappie over a blue bucket.

Crappie is another common fish in Illinois. While found statewide, you can easily see them in bayous, lakes, and ponds.

There are two types of crappie in Illinois: the black crappie and the white crappie. 

The white crappie has nearly white underbellies with green and black scales on the upper half of their bodies. The black crappie has green and black scales all over its body.

Fact: Crappies are also called “panfish” because their bodies are shaped like a skillet pan, which is a pan most people use to cook their caught crappies!

3. Sunfish

An angler clad in brown holding a sunfish in two hands.

You can find sunfish in any body of freshwater in Illinois. Illinois has many types of sunfish, such as:

  • Pumpkinseed sunfish
  • Redear sunfish
  • Warmouth sunfish
  • Green sunfish

However, not all species of sunfish are abundant in Illinois. Some of them, like the red-spotted sunfish, are currently endangered in the state. 

How To Act Around Wild Animals In Illinois

In general, the best rule to follow is to make sure you do not bother the animal or attract attention to yourself. Do not attempt to feed, touch, or get close to the animal because you do not know how it will react.

If you find yourself being spotted by an animal, the best thing to do is slowly back away until you are out of their sight. You do not want to run or make too many noises because that can startle them.

As for big predators, the rules can vary. Normally, they will leave you alone if you slowly back away, making sure not to run because that triggers their instinct to hunt.

If a predator keeps trying to follow you, you will have to change it up. For instance, if a coyote is following you, you will need to make yourself appear stronger and scarier than the animal. You can wave your arms, yell, and throw an item like a rock at the coyote, but never run away from it.

Endangered Species In Illinois

While wildlife is still plentiful in Illinois, some species of animals are endangered. Some examples include:

  • Hellbenders
  • Short-eared owls
  • American bitterns
  • Lake sturgeons
  • Bigeye chubs
  • Gray bats

Extinct Animals That Used To Live In Illinois

Sadly, some animals have somewhat recently gone extinct in Illinois, such as the Carolina parakeet that went extinct in 1939. Another recently extinct animal that was once in Illinois is the passenger pigeon, which was declared extinct in the early 1910s.

Some animals in Illinois were extirpated, which means that the species was completely removed from a given area. Some examples of extirpated wildlife in Illinois include:

  • Gray wolves
  • Mountain lions
  • American elk
  • Black bears

The white-tailed deer was also once extirpated from the state, but they were later introduced in the 1930s and are currently the state mammal of Illinois.

Places In Illinois To Spot Wild Animals

Do you want to find wild animals in their natural habitats? Here are some places you can go to in Illinois to spot them!

1. Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

If you are a fan of prairies, then you need to visit Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. This area was initially part of the Joliet Ammunition Plant, but the land is now protected to help the tallgrass prairie repopulate. You will see bison herds, black bears, wolves, elk, and hundreds of types of birds in this area.

2. Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary

While this is a sanctuary, it stands out as you can spot animals in the wild by taking the trails there. Despite being a small area, there have been more than 300 documented bird species spotted on the land, such as the American Golden-Plover.

3. Garden of the Gods

Similar to Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, you can walk through the scenic trails of Garden of the Gods to see various animals and gorgeous rock formations. Some wildlife that you may spot is bighorn sheep, bears, and falcons.

Zoos In Illinois

Do you want to conveniently see wild animals without looking for them in nature? You can head to any of these zoos in Illinois!

1. The Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center

This nature center is great for families since they have historical info, a big interpretation center, and a kid’s exploration area. As for exhibits, they have indoor and outdoor ones that house various animals like hawks, rescue owls, snakes, toads, turtles, and hummingbirds. If you take a hike around the area, you may spot white-tailed deer!

2. Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln park zoo is a fairly sized zoo that houses over 1,000 animals. As for species, you will not get bored with variety since they have over 200 species in their zoo. Some animals you will see are African penguins, red pandas, Chilean flamingos, polar bears, and more!

3. Shedd Aquarium

If you are more interested in marine life, take a trip to Shedd Aquarium, which is an aquarium that features a 5 million-gallon tank! They have over 32,000 animals, and some animals you will find include sea otters, sharks, penguins, clownfish, seahorses, and much more.

Author: Allison Marie Dinglasan

Hello! I am Allison, an avid writer for 6 years with a deep interest in animals since I was a child. I grew up on Animal Planet and animal books and often did rescue work for stray and sickly cats, dogs, and birds in my area, which led to over 60 rescues. My future goal is to be a veterinarian to have a more hands-on approach to helping and learning about animals!

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