Birding And Bird Conservation
Wisconsin is home to over 300 species of birds and thousands of birding enthusiasts. Explore the links below for information on birds, bird identification, birding locations and how to get involved in conservation efforts.
Statewide Birding Report as of May 3, 2022
Are you ready, birders? Peak migration is near as favorites like orioles, hummingbirds, grosbeaks, buntings, tanagers and warblers return to Wisconsin. May promises to be the most exciting birding month of the year!
Not to be outdone, April finished spectacularly as a strong surge of south winds brought an early wave of migrants around April 21-22. Baltimore and orchard orioles, ruby-throated hummingbirds and rose-breasted grosbeaks reached the state's southern half. Southern and eastern counties saw massive warbler action, including rarities like Kentucky, prairie and yellow-throated warblers. Statewide, yellow-rumped warblers and a few pine warblers flocked to suet feeders in the cool temperatures. Other neotropical migrants arriving in southern areas included gray catbird, blue-gray gnatcatcher, great crested flycatcher, eastern kingbird, wood thrush, chimney swift and Eastern whip-poor-will.
Nearer water, several flocks of American avocets and willets were seen, and the first least, pectoral, solitary and spotted sandpipers were seen among larger numbers of greater and lesser yellowlegs. Large flocks of Bonaparte's gulls frequented lakeshore sites and flooded fields, the former also hosting common, caspian and Forster's terns. American bittern, sora and Virginia rail can now be heard in emergent wetlands.
Waterfowl migration is at or just past peak in the north, where late ice-out on lakes has delayed loon arrival and pushed loons, grebes and many waterfowl into smaller areas of open water. Scaup, redhead, ring-necked duck, bufflehead, blue-winged and green-winged teal, shoveler and pied-billed grebe were all spotted this week. The first goslings were also reported in southern Wisconsin.
Persistent cool northerly winds have also resulted in late departure dates for some decidedly "winter" species, including snowy owl, rough-legged hawk, northern shrike, snow bunting, Bohemian waxwing, white-winged crossbill and hoary redpoll. Good numbers of common redpolls continue in the north, with a few stragglers in the south. Dark-eyed juncos remain abundant, though they are slowly getting replaced by incoming white-throated sparrows. Other sparrows like swamp, savannah, chipping, white-crowned and Lincoln's are also moving in.
The flush of migrants also brought in an incredible wave of rarities. Most notable among them were long-billed curlew (Ashland Co.), ash-throated and scissor-tailed flycatcher (Racine), ruff (Rusk), sharp-tailed sandpiper (Sauk) and garganey (Jefferson). Others included cinnamon teal, Say's phoebe, summer and western tanagers, western kingbird, eared grebe, loggerhead shrike, white-faced ibis, N. mockingbird and Eurasian tree sparrow. A pair of black-billed magpies in Bayfield County was found nest building, marking the first documented evidence of nesting behavior for this species in state history!
Warmer, drier weather and more south winds should usher in many new birds during the week ahead, especially Sunday into early next week if the forecast holds. Look for orioles, grosbeaks and a few hummingbirds to reach the north, many more warblers statewide, and soaring groups ("kettles") of broad-winged hawks overhead. Then help us track the migration by reporting your finds to www.ebird.org/wi. Good birding!
– Ryan Brady, DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program Biologist
Explore the information below to learn more about great birding places in Wisconsin.
- Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail offers maps of birding and wildlife watching sites from around the state.
- Wisconsin Society for Ornithology offers field trips and other birdwatching opportunities. Learn more about birds across the state.
- Wisconsin birding hotspots provides a statewide birding summary and links to hotspots around the state.
- Wisconsin eBird displays maps of recent sightings by species and lists of birds seen at hotspots around the state.
- Wisconsin Bird Network (WISBIRDN) is an email forum for bird sightings and news. Facebook also hosts several groups focused on photos and discussion of Wisconsin birds, such as Birding Wisconsin and Wild Birds of Wisconsin.
- Natural Resources Foundation organizes experts around the state for birdwatching and other nature-related field trips.
- Important Bird Areas are often great places to birdwatch or enjoy nature.
- Explore outdoors helps you find places to go and activities to try on state lands around the state.
- DNR's snowy owl page offers background on irruptions, the latest numbers, maps of sightings and tips for finding them.
- Bald eagle watching
- Prairie Chicken viewing is organized by DNR conservation partners every spring. This is an excellent opportunity to view Prairie Chicken "lekking" from blinds on Buena Vista Marsh.
- Sharp-tailed grouse viewing is available at the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area (3 blinds available) and the Douglas County Bird Sanctuary (1 blind available).
Report A Bird
Amateur birders have always been leaders in the field of citizen science. The following links provide several web-based tools that allow you to report and track your daily bird sightings. DNR and conservation partners use data across the hemisphere to monitor migratory bird populations.
- Wisconsin eBird allows you to report and track your daily sightings from birding excursions and at home. It also allows you to explore real-time bird sightings from other birders across the state.
- Wisconsin Society for Ornithology provides a variety of ways to document rare birds and how to use eBird for seasonal reports.
- Report a banded bird at the U.S. Geological Survey bird banding lab website. This website includes both aluminum leg bands and some other colored leg bands and wing markers used by scientists to track individual birds.
- The Great Backyard Bird Count is a global project to record bird abundance and distribution once a year in February. You can contribute to our understanding of Wisconsin birds during that time by watching birds in your backyard or elsewhere and reporting your observations.
- Report a banded racing pigeon through the American Racing Pigeon Union website. Racing pigeon bands will start with the letters "AU."
- Report a rare bird using a fillable report form. This form is used for species on Wisconsin's Natural Heritage Working List.
- Report a Whooping Crane at the whooping crane reporting website for the eastern U.S.
- Report a sick or dead bird by using our directory of wildlife rehabilitators or contacting your local DNR office.
Bird ID And Info
The links below provide helpful tips for identifying birds and information on their biology, status and conservation in Wisconsin.
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds website contains information on most North American species, including pictures, videos and songs/calls. Also, see the great series of online videos on being a better birder.
- Audubon's Online Guide to North American Birds provides excellent accounts of all Wisconsin species, including range maps, illustrations, habitats, photos, sounds and more.
- The USGS's Dendroica is an interactive website to help students, volunteers and professionals improve their skills at identifying wildlife by sight or by sound, particularly so that they can participate in nature surveys and monitoring programs.
- Wisconsin All-bird Conservation Plan contains species accounts, habitat management guidance and other relevant conservation information.
- Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II completed fieldwork in 2019. See what species are nesting, where they are found and how these compare to the first Atlas conducted two decades ago.
- Wisconsin's rare birds contains information on Wisconsin's endangered and threatened birds as well as species of greatest conservation need.
- Establish native plants for birds to use as feeding, resting and nesting sites. For information on what to plant and Wisconsin native plant nurseries, visit the DNR's Plant Native Plants webpage.
- Read how Wisconsinites are taking steps to help birds in the Fall 2020 Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.
- Learn about ten great native plants, trees and shrubs to plant for birds.
- Provide more food for birds and maintain a healthier natural environment by removing plants not native to your area.
- Provide fresh water for birds. A frog pond, water garden, fountain or even a shallow, regularly cleaned dish of water will get lots of bird use, especially if the water is dripping, moving or otherwise making a sound.
- Maintain bird feeders in your yard, placed at least 30 feet from windows and near the natural protection of trees and shrubs; fruit, suet, and mealworms can supplement traditional seeds such as black sunflower and niger seed.
- Build a brush pile for shelter from predators and weather.
- Add nest boxes for species like bluebirds or chickadees that nest and roost in cavities.
- Prevent collisions with window glass with non-reflective window coatings, window screens, awnings, flash tape, paracord or bird netting. Find DIY ideas here.
- Keep cats indoors or confined to an outdoor enclosure to help reduce the hundreds of millions of birds killed by cats in the U.S. each year.
- Limit or avoid pesticide use on your property. Pesticides harm birds directly through exposure/contact and indirectly by reducing the insect populations they need to survive. Birds are natural pesticides.
How To Help
See the links below for ways to get involved in birding and bird conservation efforts around the state.
- A Planning Tool for Migratory Bird Conservation along Lake Michigan
- Practice 7 Simple Actions to help birds at home, including making windows safer, keeping cats indoors, avoiding pesticides and planting native vegetation.
- Wisconsin eBird provides an easy way to make your bird observations useful for research, management and conservation.
- Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative volunteer bird monitoring opportunities has many citizen-science programs for birders.
- "Who's Who" of bird citizen-based monitoring connects birders to local efforts to collect information on birds and other taxa groups.
- Birder Certification Programhelps individuals develop bird skills and get certified to participate in essential monitoring efforts.
- The Bird Protection Fund helps DNR and partners conserve the birds we love. Donate through the website or consider participating in the Great Wisconsin Birdathon.
- Bird City Wisconsin encourages local conservation groups and interested individuals to participate in bird conservation efforts. Is your city a bird city?
Ten Tips For Winter Bird Feeding
Winter is a great time to feed the birds, as higher energy demands and fewer natural foods allow us to bring some species closer to home.
- The best seed to provide is black oil sunflower, which has high-fat content and attracts the most species.
- Offer nyjer seed for finches, white millet for sparrows, doves and other ground-feeding species, both suet and peanut chunks for woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches.
- Avoid generic seed mixes as these tend to have more waste and attract less desired bird and mammal species.
- Deter squirrels with cone- or dome-shaped baffles above hanging feeders or below pole-mounted feeders.
- Place feeders closer than 3 feet or farther than 30 feet from your home to avoid the deadliest window collision zone.
- Minimize disease by cleaning your feeders at least once every two weeks using soapy water and a 10% bleach solution.
- Provide cover such as brush piles or dense shrubs for roosting and escaping predators.
- Offer water to attract a wider variety of species, using a heating element when temperatures dip below freezing.
- "Birdscape" your property with native plants such as fruit-bearing shrubs and evergreen trees.
- Contribute to bird science and management by reporting birds you see at your feeder. The Great Backyard Bird Count hosted every February is an easy, fun way to get started. For at least 15 minutes, tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see on one or more days. Project Feederwatch spans the entire winter.