Northwest Indiana Birding Opportunities - Kankakee Fish & Wildlife Area

Located along SR’s 8 & 39 in Starke and LaPorte counties, the 4,200-acre Kankakee Fish & Wildlife Area is an important remnant oasis of the Kankakee Grand Marsh - a larger watershed that is still the most dominant migratory bird area in Northern Indiana for water birds.

Kankakee Fish and Wildlife Area Birding Trail

The area is heavily hunted during the appropriate season, but fortunately, most of the best viewing is from one of the numerous roads.

The main birding areas are areas L-3 and L-4 in LaPorte Co. off CR W2100 S. and in Kiwani Marsh (parking lot on north side of Toto Rd. just west of the Headquarters in area S-4) and adjacent fields on the south (Starke Co.) side of Toto Rd. The area also has less common, but not infrequent sightings of raptors and a few songbirds utilizing the river as a pathway and stopover. If one has more time for exploration, 10-mile Road is a long, gravel road loop that lines each of the two rivers and loops well west of the FWA if one has time. Bald Eagles, and typical eastern forest nesters are found along the river. In addition, the river floodplain forest is an important stopover area for species such as Rusty and Brewer’s Blackbirds (also nest nearby) and holds good numbers of Prothonotary and a few Yellow-throated Warblers. Keep an eye out for raptors.
Golden Eagle is rare but annual in the area in early spring.

The habitat ranges from seasonally impounded and flooded agricultural fields and basins to river floodplain forest. Along both sides of the rivers in centrally located and flooded fields, one can find impressive numbers of most species of duck, swan, geese, and shorebirds, particularly found in late winter and spring migration. Waterfowl tend to begin showing up at Kiwani Marsh as soon (or sooner for swans) as a hole forms in the ice, including any thawing flooded fields along Toto Rd. on the south side of the river near the headquarters. Duck rarities have included both Cinnamon Teal and Eurasian Wigeon.

Other rarities have included Swainson’s Hawk, Gyrfalcon, Prairie Falcon. Marsh birds, including Rails, Marsh Wrens and snipe can be found in the areas on the north side of 2100 S. between LaPorte CR’s 500 and 600 W across from shorebird scrapes. A scope is often useful when birding this site.

eBird Hotspot Links:
Stark County
Laporte County

Total Birding Time:
2-3 hours with quick stops, but 3-5 hours when checking nearby fields.

Best Times to Bird: 
Late winter and early spring are the best time as waterfowl and early migrants begin to arrive. Suitable shorebird habitat can make it worth visiting through May. Fall birding is habitat dependent for shorebirds. Winter birding is also dependent on habitat, mainly open water and flooding.


4320 W. Toto Rd.
North Judson, IN 46366
Most visitors will access the site from the north or south via State Road 39 or State Road 421. Though local roads may have temporary closures around the property when river levels are high.
Ownership: Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Fish & Wildlife.
Hours: Regular park hours are dawn to dusk in most lots. 
Admission: Admission and parking are free.
Restrictions:  Fishing and hunting are permitted on the property; during hunting seasons, birders should take care to avoid units where hunters may be present. Seasonal flooding can close certain roads. Do not attempt to cross flooded roads.
Parking: Gravel parking areas are located at most units throughout the property.
Nearby Amenities: There are restrooms outside the headquarters building during daylight hours. The nearest food and fuel are in LaCrosse, 8 miles west on State Road 8.
Accessibility: Trails are generally easy to moderate, but none are ADA accessible.
Phone Number: (574) 896-3522

Written by: John Kendall
Photo by: 
John Kendall