We all know about the wonders of the zoos at Brookfield and Lincoln Park, but what if you want to learn about wildlife a little closer to home? Here are some suburban haunts where you can come face to face with some pretty cool animals …
Phillips Park Zoo: The mountain lion is a favorite, but you should also check out the gray wolves, otters and alligator at the free zoo at 1000 Ray Moses Drive in Aurora. Founded in 1915, the zoo is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Info: aurora-il.org or (630) 256-3860.
Willowbrook Wildlife Center: Operated by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, the center treats injured, sick or orphaned wildlife that is native to DuPage. The birds of prey are a must-see. The center, 525 S. Park Blvd., Glen Ellyn, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and admission is free. Info: (630) 942-6200 or dupageforest.org/willowbrook-wildlife-center.
Red Oak Nature Center: The Wildlife Room is home to animals that live along the Fox River and features a 500-gallon turtle and fish habitat, along with frogs, snakes and salamanders. Located at 2343 S. River St., Batavia, it's open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Free, but a $1 donation is accepted. Info: foxvalleyparkdistrict.org or (630) 897-1808.
Cosley Zoo: More than 125 critters make their home at the Wheaton Park District facility, including farm animals and creatures common to the area. The bobcats are the star attraction here -- they're smaller than you probably think -- but don't miss the otters. The zoo is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through March at 1356 N. Gary Ave., Wheaton. Admission is $7 for adults and free for kids 17 and younger. Info: cosleyzoo.org or (630) 260-6408.
Wildlife Discovery Center: The Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest is home to about 85 species of wildlife, with a focus on reptiles and amphibians indoors. Outdoors you'll find a red-tailed hawk, great horned owl and a bobcat, among others. The center is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 1401 Middlefork Drive, Lake Forest. Admission is free. Info: cityoflakeforest.com/parks-and-recreation/wildlife-discovery-center/.
Lords Park Zoo: The big draw at Lords Park Zoo in Elgin is its bison herd, along with elk and white-tailed deer on exhibit within a public park. You can learn more about the bison at monthly feeding events, which book quickly; the next one is scheduled for 7 to 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 24. Meet at the Elgin Public Museum, which is on the grounds of the park at 225 Grand Blvd. Fee is $2 for adults and $1 for children; free for members of the Elgin Public Museum; advance registration required. Info: (847) 741-6655, firstname.lastname@example.org or elginpublicmuseum.org.