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 Nov. 14, 2022
Winter-like weather has finally arrived, bringing the tail end of bird migration season that we’d expect this time of year. Tundra swans are being seen by the hundreds now at traditional areas along the Mississippi River, Goose Pond in Columbia County and the vicinity of Green Bay. Numbers will build until ice cover forces them eastward to mid-Atlantic wintering grounds. Other waterfowl are plentiful now as well, including a variety of divers and dabblers at most water bodies. Large numbers of red-breasted mergansers were seen recently migrating south off the Lake Michigan shore, highlighted by 10,000+ at Manitowoc on Nov. 12. Lake Michigan is also a great location for spotting long-tailed ducks and all three scoter species. Some loons continue to be seen, but peak numbers have passed. Greater yellowlegs made their usual last pass through the region in the first half of the month, as did a few long-billed dowitchers, dunlin and Wilson’s snipe, but expect few to linger now.
The first snowy owls have arrived, though only in very small numbers at this point. Check out our snowy owl webpage for the latest update. Open habitats now host rough-legged hawks by day and some short-eared owls at dusk and dawn, among the more common species like red-tailed hawks, northern harriers and American kestrels. Look for northern shrikes and snow buntings in these areas as well. Golden eagles have arrived in wintering areas in the Driftless Area of western Wisconsin. Bald eagle numbers are increasing too as cold and snow begin to push them southward out of Canada. Big flocks of Sandhill Cranes were reported from many agricultural and wetland areas, some migrating out of the state with the past few days’ cold northerly winds.
Perhaps the fall’s biggest bird news so far is an irruption of evening grosbeaks statewide and across the eastern United States. Flocks are unusually common across the north woods and some have reached southern areas like Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago. This author had the pleasure of tallying over 1,000 individuals as they actively migrated along the Lake Superior shore on Nov. 3. Look and listen for them at natural tree seeds like ash, boxelder and maple, or attract them to your yards with open platform feeders, sunflower seeds and a water source. Other winter finches are only slowly moving into the north woods, including pine grosbeaks, common redpolls, red crossbills and pine siskins. Purple finches and red-breasted nuthatches are showing well in the south, while blue jays are particularly numerous in the north this year. American goldfinches are plentiful statewide.
Rare birds spotted recently include sharp-tailed sandpiper in Manitowoc county, lark bunting in Ozaukee and brant in Door. Others of interest were parasitic jaeger in Racine; Ross’s geese in Ashland, Milwaukee and Sheboygan; cattle egrets most notably in Lincoln and Dunn; and harlequin ducks in several Lake Michigan counties, including the long-staying and strikingly-plumaged males in Sheboygan. A few Baltimore orioles linger and any late hummingbirds should be photographed and carefully scrutinized now. Two exceptional finds lately were Anna’s hummingbird and Mexican Violetear. Please report your observations of rare and common species alike at Wisconsin ebird.
– 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 offer 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 provide 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 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 contain 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.