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Birding And Bird Conservation

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

Birding Report

Statewide Birding Report As Of April 6, 2021

One of Wisconsin’s most iconic species, common loons can now be found on larger lakes throughout the state. Photo by Robert Bergen.
One of Wisconsin’s most iconic species, common loons can now be found on larger lakes throughout the state. / Photo Credit: Robert Bergen.

Mild and dry weather allowed migration to advance steadily this week. The south continues to see excellent abundance and diversity of waterfowl, but with smaller numbers of swans and geese now. Shallow wetlands, ponds in open habitats and flooded fields have been hotspots, hosting various ducks, some greater white-fronted geese, good numbers of Bonaparte’s gulls, American white pelicans and growing numbers of shorebirds, including greater and lesser yellowlegs, pectoral sandpipers, Wilson’s snipes, and the first black-necked stilts. Tree swallows have become more prevalent, and the first purple martins and barn swallows have returned as well. Other water-associated species to look for now include ospreys, belted kingfishers and yellow-headed blackbirds.  

Sparrow diversity continues to increase in the south, bringing more chipping, white-throated, field, vesper and swamp sparrows, to name a few. The first brown thrashers, eastern towhees and hermit thrushes were also reported. Can you believe warbler season is underway? Yellow-rumped warblers are most widespread, but the first pine warblers and Louisiana waterthrushes have also arrived. The bulk of warbler activity is still nearly a month away, however, and we don’t expect orioles and hummingbirds there until around May 1. Bluebirds, however, have already returned in earnest, their populations thriving today thanks to nest box programs and other conservation efforts.

The north woods also saw new birds arrive throughout the weekend and especially into Monday. Dark-eyed juncos appeared by the hundreds, along with some song, fox and American tree sparrows. Joining them were the first yellow-bellied sapsuckers, northern flickers, eastern phoebes, yellow-rumped warblers, winter wrens, tree swallows and ruby-crowned kinglets, all in small numbers yet.

Golden-crowned kinglets, brown creepers, purple finches and eastern meadowlarks were also found, as were a variety of blackbirds such as red-winged blackbird, common grackle and brown-headed cowbird. Raptors on the move included red-tailed, rough-legged and sharp-shinned hawks, turkey vultures, northern harriers, bald eagles, American kestrels and others. Feeder watchers noted some big flocks of common redpolls as well as a few lingering evening grosbeaks. Elsewhere, the last of the snowy owls and northern shrikes are now making their way out of Wisconsin to Canadian breeding grounds.

Also in the north, the first common loons were reported this week. Tundra swans showed well near Lake Superior as hundreds stopped on Chequamegon Bay near Ashland or were seen winging their way west to the prairies. Other waterfowl found, some at well-known northern locales such as Crex Meadows and Powell Marsh, were good numbers of mallards, northern pintails, and ring-necked ducks, as well as wood ducks, hooded mergansers, common mergansers and others. Over 10,000 scaup and hundreds of redheads were reported on lower Green Bay, in addition to over 2,000 long-tailed ducks in Door. For both waterbirds and landbirds in the weeks ahead, birds may be more widely dispersed than some spring seasons given the lack of snow and ice in the region.

A few of the rare birds spotted recently included a mew gull in Columbia County, cinnamon teal in Sauk County, Eurasian wigeons in Columbia and Dodge, great gray owl and slaty-backed gull in Ashland, eared grebes in Grant and Green, and a very early great egret in Bayfield. Migration conditions do not look ideal over the next seven-10 days given persistent rain this week and cooler northerly winds next week, but it’s spring and birds will press on, so expect new birds to arrive throughout the period. Poor weather can also make for great birding as birds forage lower to the ground, visit feeders more often, or get forced into sub-optimal habitats. Get out there to see what you can find, and then help us track the migration by reporting your observations to www.ebird.org/wi. 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 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 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.
  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.