Central Indiana Birding Opportunities - Eagle Creek Park

Formerly the site of J.K. Lilly, Jr.'s country estate, located on the northwest side of Indianapolis, Eagle Creek Park is Marion County's top eBird hotspot with more than 270 reported species.


The park's large reservoir and 3,900 acres of deciduous woods, ponds, mudflats, scrubs and grasslands offer year-round encounters with resident and migrant birds. You can essentially bird from anywhere within the park, but there are four notable highlights: the Ornithology Center, Coffer Dam, Ice Skating Pond, and Marina.
The Ornithology Center (a short distance from the North Gate at 71st street) is where you can find trail maps and learn of recent sightings. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. It overlooks a bird sanctuary enclosed by the Coffer Dam, where ducks, geese, cormorants, gulls, and herons rest. In winter months, using your own optics or the ones provided, check the sanctuary islands from the outdoor viewing platform or from the indoor observatory while staying warm. Inside, you'll find displays, taxidermy birds, and a cozy view of the center's bird feeding stations. Watch the feeders between fall and early spring for Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, and an assortment of sparrows and woodpeckers. 

The Coffer Dam is a 2-mile loop around the bird sanctuary, well-liked by birders, hikers, runners, and anglers for outstanding reservoir views. The loop can begin/end either from the North Gate parking area or from the Ornithology Center. When starting the loop from the Ornithology Center, you can choose to walk north around the dam or go south from the parking lot using Edesess Trail. Allow at least 90 minutes when birding Coffer Dam in its entirety.
Tucked back off 62nd Street, the Ice-Skating Pond area includes a larger main pond and two smaller adjacent ones. The habitat is suitable for a variety of species from season to season, although birding is most rewarding in late spring and early fall. Walking around the shrubs and ponds slowly and thoroughly is the best strategy, so allow yourself 45-90 minutes at this location. Check the cattails in the main pond for sly Least and American Bitterns, Sora, Virginia Rail, and Common Gallinule while listening for Marsh Wren. 

Birders flock to the Marina between fall and spring for its easy access and 180-degree views of the reservoir. Scoping when the trees are bare can yield distant-yet-extended looks at loons, mergansers, scaups, and grebes. 

eBird Hotspot Links:
Eagle Creek Park: ebird.org/hotspot/L157179
Coffer Dam: ebird.org/hotspot/L2580472
Ice Skating Pond: ebird.org/hotspot/L1152431
Marina: ebird.org/hotspot/L2335265
North Loop: ebird.org/hotspot/L2958761
Ornithology Center: ebird.org/hotspot/L1763593


Total Birding Time:
1-2 hours, but longer during migration.

Best Times to Bird: 
From late April through mid-May, plan to arrive at or within 30 minutes of sunrise to observe warblers, flycatchers, and vireos foraging for insects. The peninsular tree line attracts songbirds in high numbers during peak spring migration; just walking the perimeter of the parking lot and access road can be very good birding.


Address: 7840 W 56th St, Indianapolis, IN 46254. The park can be entered from the south at 7840 W. 56th Street or from the north at the 71st Street exit off I-65.
Hours: Open year-round, generally from dawn to dusk. Specific hours vary by month.
Ownership: Indy Parks & Recreation, City of Indianapolis
Admission: Daily entrance fees are $3 by bike/foot, $5 by car for Marion Co. residents, and $6 by car for all other visitors. Annual passes are available at varying rates.
Restrictions: Bicycles are allowed only on paved roads. Canoes, kayaks, and boats between 8 ft. and 26 ft. with motors up to 10 horsepower are allowed. Dogs must always be leashed.
Parking: There are numerous parking lots throughout the park.
Nearby Amenities: Modern restrooms are available at the marina as well as within the Earth Discovery Center and Ornithology Center; porta-potties are scattered throughout the park. Nearby lodging can be found east of the park within 3 miles.
Accessibility: Most park trails are compacted soil or gravel. Two ADA-accessible loops are in development for the West Side Trail with intended completion in 2021.
Website: eaglecreekpark.org
Phone Number: (317) 327-7110

Written by: Whitney Yoerger
Photo by: 
Lisa Vanderbilt