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Birding and bird conservation

Wisconsin is home to over 300 species of birds and has thousands of people who enjoy birds. Explore the links below for information on birds, bird identification, birding locations and how to get involved in bird conservation efforts.

Birding report

Statewide Birding Report as of September 25, 2020 

American Redstarts
Early fall colors are providing a stellar backdrop to views of American Redstarts and many other species this week. Photo by Ryan Brady.

After a brief and unusual mid-month lull, birding activity picked up greatly this past week at many locations statewide. Warblers made a welcome resurgence with most species being seen again in good numbers. Diversity was best in the south, while northern birders noted an abundance of yellow-rumped and palm warblers, many gleaning insects off sunlit lawns and homesteads. Other warm weather birds like vireos, tanagers, flycatchers, orioles, nighthawks, whip-poor-wills, and cuckoos are down to just a few lingering migrants. Ruby-throated hummingbirds have largely departed the north but will remain in the south for another week or two. Continue to offer and maintain your feeder as this will help later migrants and not discourage the birds from migrating.

The transition to later migrants typical of the cool season is well underway. Sparrows are surging up north with large numbers of white-throated, swamp, song, and Lincoln’s, as well as a few white-crowned, chipping, savannah, and the first fox sparrows. Keep an eye out for the less common Harris’s sparrow, especially in western Wisconsin. Dark-eyed juncos have been seen statewide now and numbers are building in the north woods. Statewide, birders are finding both ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, northern flickers, increasing numbers of American robins, and some rusty blackbirds alongside common grackles and red-winged blackbirds. Open fields and shorelines are now hosting a few American pipits, Lapland longspurs, and horned larks, while blue jays and cedar waxwings are prevalent in many locations.

As purple finches and red-breasted nuthatches continue to show better than usual statewide, pine siskins are making a surge into the state, especially in the north but even as far south as Milwaukee, and some are visiting feeders already, both signs that it could be a good winter for viewing these species. The 2020 Winter Finch Forecast was recently released and suggests redpolls may also brighten the winter landscape this year. Overhead, broad-winged hawks have peaked and many but not all are now south of Wisconsin. Late September and early October are a great time to look for migrating merlins and peregrines falcons, especially along the Lake Michigan shore when winds are out of the southwest. Other raptors like sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks, American kestrels, northern harriers, and ospreys may also be seen. 

Waterbird migration is at a crossroads this time of year. Shorebird migration is waning, although diversity remains good at suitable habitat and numbers for some species can remain decent through mid-October. Greater and lesser yellowlegs, black-bellied and American golden-plovers, sanderling, long-billed dowitcher, Wilson’s snipe, and American woodcock are a few of the species moving through now. Meanwhile, goose and duck migration is slowly building. Look for blue-winged and green-winged teal, northern pintail, American wigeon, wood ducks, and other dabblers at lakes and wetlands. Divers generally come later, though small numbers are already being seen. Common and Forster’s terns are departing now, while Bonaparte’s gulls have a somewhat protracted migration through the fall.

Rare birds spotted since our last report include Eurasian wigeon in Marathon, an ibis species in Oconto, parasitic jaegers and Sabine’s gulls in both Douglas and Jefferson, and yellow-crowned night-heron and black-bellied whistling ducks in La Crosse, the latter including a brood of ducklings that furnish the first-ever documented nesting of a whistling duck in Wisconsin. After a mild weekend, next week looks cooler with intermittent rain chances and frequent west winds, which are generally favorable for migration. Expect a continued shift from warm weather to cold weather birds statewide and especially in the north. Find out what others are seeing and report your finds at Good birding! 

– Ryan Brady, DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program biologist

Find birds

Explore the information below to learn more about great birding places in Wisconsin.

Report a bird

Amateur birders have always been leaders in the field of citizen science. The links below provide a number of web-based tools that allow you to report and track your daily bird sightings. These data are used by DNR and conservation partners across the hemisphere to monitor migratory bird populations.

Bird ID and info

The links below provide useful tips in identifying birds as well as information on their biology, status and conservation in Wisconsin.

Create habitat

  • Establish native plants for birds to use as feeding, resting and nesting sites. For information on what to plant and Wisconsin native plant nurseries, see DNR's Plant native plants web page.
  • Read how Wisconsinites are taking steps to help birds in this special section of the Fall 2020 Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.
  • 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 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 meal worms can supplement traditional seed 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 by using 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.

Birdfeeder tips

Ten tips for winter bird feeding

Winter is a great time to feed the birds, as higher energy demands and fewer natural foods give us the opportunity to bring some species closer to home.

  1. The single best seed to provide is black oil sunflower, which has high fat content and attracts the most species.
  2. Also offer nyjer seed for finches, white millet for sparrows, doves and other ground-feeding species both suet and peanut chunks for woodpeckers, chickadees nuthatches.
  3. Avoid generic seed mixes as these tend to have more waste and attract less desired bird and mammal species.
  4. Deter squirrels with cone- or dome-shaped baffles above hanging feeders or below pole-mounted feeders.
  5. Place feeders closer than 3 feet or farther than 30 feet from your home to avoid the deadliest window collision zone.
  6. Minimize disease by cleaning your feeders at least once every two weeks using soapy water and a 10% bleach solution.
  7. Provide cover such as brush piles or dense shrubs for roosting and escape from predators.
  8. Offer water to attract a wider variety of species, using a heating element when temperatures dip below freezing.
  9. “Birdscape” your property with native plants such as fruit-bearing shrubs and evergreen trees. Check out these birdscaping resources on the Wisconsin Stopover Initiative website [exit DNR].
  10. Contribute to bird science and management by reporting birds you see at your feeder. The Great Backyard Bird Count [exit DNR] every February is an easy, fun way to get started: for at least 15 minutes on one or more days you simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see. Project Feederwatch [exit DNR] spans the entire winter.