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Birding at Horicon Marsh Wildlife Area

Encompassing 33,000 acres, Horicon Marsh is the largest cattail marsh in the U.S. This marsh is a restoration project, having been ditched and drained for agriculture in the early 1900s.

Today, the marsh is divided into two units. The southern one-third is a state wildlife area managed by the Wisconsin DNR. The northern two-thirds is a national wildlife refuge administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While the marsh is primarily managed as a waterfowl area, it hosts a tremendous variety of other birds. This marsh is perhaps best known for the spring and fall migration of Canada geese, which often number more than 200,000 birds.

Over the years, more than 300 species have been sighted here, and this marsh regularly attracts some of Wisconsin's rarest birds. Being a national wildlife refuge, public access is limited in this portion of the marsh in order to protect the wildlife for which it has been established. Most of the state area is open to the public. One of the best ways to explore this area is by canoe or shallow draft boat. Please be aware of designated restricted use and closed areas. For more information, contact the state or federal headquarters. The following is a summary of some of the most productive and accessible birding sites.

Download the Horicon Marsh Bird Checklist - Status and Seasonal Distribution [PDF].

Visitor information

Horicon Marsh not only offers many opportunities to observe common marshland birds but is often a lure to some of the rarest bird sightings in Wisconsin. Besides the aforementioned rarities, other sightings have included horned grebe, glossy ibis, brant, black-bellied whistling duck, cinnamon teal, Eurasian wigeon, golden eagle and tufted titmouse.

To help visitors experience Horicon Marsh and understand its wildlife, natural history and management, a variety of naturalist programs are offered to the public every weekend during spring and fall. For more information, visit the DNR Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center on Highway 28, or call 920-387-7860. The office is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Horicon National Wildlife Refuge office also provides public information and education programs. The visitor center is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information, call 920-387-2658. More information is available at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge [exit DNR].

One of the best ways to experience the rich birdlife of the area is during the annual Horicon Marsh Bird Festival, held on Mother's Day weekend in May. Additional information and a full schedule of events is available by contacting the above offices or checking the Horicon Marsh Bird Club webpage [exit DNR].

Palmatory Street overlook

Taking Palmatory Street north from Highway 33 in the city of Horicon brings one to the state hiking trails and Palmatory Street Overlook. From the top of this hill is one of the finest views of Horicon Marsh. A good number of birds can be sighted from the observation deck without having to walk much at all. Scopes are a must to identify species out on the open water. This also provides an excellent view of Fourmile Island, a nesting site for great blue herons.

A 1.5 mile hiking trail loop begins at the bottom of the hill at the parking lot. Interpretive signs provide information on the local wildlife along the "Horicon Habitat Hike." A short walk will lead you through a woodlot, where great-crested flycatchers, northern flickers, eastern wood pewee and many spring migrants are abundant. A loop trail along the dike takes hikers out on the marsh where wetland birds are readily seen. Commonly sighted species include a variety of ducks, Canada geese, herons, egrets, marsh wrens and pied-billed grebe.

DNR Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center

The education center, located on Highway 28 between Horicon and Mayville is the DNR headquarters at Horicon Marsh. A variety of visitor information can be obtained here during regular business hours. This site was improved with the completion of the Bachhuber Flowage, a 200-acre impoundment providing enhanced wildlife habitat. A variety of wetland birds can be found at this location. A hiking trail system has been developed along the dike and connects with the existing trails to provide greater hiking opportunities for visitors. Commonly sighted birds include Canada geese, a variety of waterfowl, sandhill cranes and a variety of other wetland birds. Other birds can be found in the surrounding uplands.