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.
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Statewide Birding Report as of March 8, 2023
Spring migration has arrived. Birders across southern Wisconsin are reporting the return of robins, red-winged blackbirds, sandhill cranes, bluebirds and a large diversity of waterfowl, among other short-distance migrants that are the first to arrive each year. As usual, migration is most evident in the southeast quarter of the state southward from Green Bay to La Crosse. However, signs of spring are apparent statewide.
March is primetime for waterfowl viewing wherever open water allows. Flocks of tundra swans, Canada geese, greater white-fronted geese, and various ducks have been found in wetlands, inland lakes, and flooded farm fields. Look for cackling geese, snow geese, and even a few Ross’s geese among them. Puddle ducks include mallards, wood ducks, northern pintails, American wigeon and others. Expect divers like common goldeneyes, redheads, hooded mergansers, buffleheads, and scaup in slightly deeper waters.
Other arrivals include killdeer, great blue heron, eastern meadowlark, common grackle, horned lark, song sparrow and American white pelican. Raptors are also on the move, including turkey vultures, American kestrels, merlins, rough-legged hawks, and bald and golden eagles. At dawn and dusk, American woodcocks are now displaying over brushy habitats and field edges in southern counties. Listening to and looking for this species is a great family activity.
Farther north, snow and ice prevail, where trumpeter swans, a few Canada geese, and bald eagles are the primary migrants. Northern saw-whet owls have begun tooting, and common ravens are nesting now. Feeders in the north right now primarily host evening grosbeaks and American goldfinches among the resident species. Pine siskins are scarce and common redpolls are nearly absent this year as most spent the winter across Canada where, unlike last year, food resources were adequate to sustain them.
Statewide, singing activity has ramped up for American robins, northern cardinals, mourning doves, house finches and black-capped chickadees. At the same time, woodpeckers are busy drumming and wild turkeys are now strutting and gobbling. Bald eagles are on eggs, and great horned owls, our earliest nesters, already have chicks. Nesting activity will quickly unfold for returning migrants like cranes, robins and geese.
Are you concerned about the effect of spring snowstorms on migrating birds? These storms have shaped bird migration for millennia, and most species can deal with short-term weather setbacks. You can help by:
- clearing or maintaining patches of bare ground.
- offering mealworms, chopped fruits and suet in addition to the usual seeds.
- keeping feeders full, dry, and sheltered from the conditions.
As always, report your observations and discover what others see 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 [exit DNR] offers field trips and other birdwatching opportunities. Learn more about birds across the state.
- Wisconsin birding hotspots [exit DNR] provide a statewide birding summary and links to hotspots around the state.
- Wisconsin eBird [exit DNR] displays maps of recent sightings by species and lists of birds seen at hotspots around the state.
- Wisconsin Bird Network (WISBIRDN) [exit DNR] 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 [exit DNR] organizes experts around the state for birdwatching and other nature-related field trips.
- Important Bird Areas [exit DNR] 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 [exit DNR] 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 [exit DNR] (3 blinds available) and the Douglas County Bird Sanctuary [exit DNR] (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 [exit DNR] 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 [exit DNR] provides a variety of ways to document rare birds and how to use eBird for seasonal reports.
- Report a banded bird [exit DNR] 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 [exit DNR] 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 [exit DNR] through the American Racing Pigeon Union website. Racing pigeon bands will start with the letters "AU."
- Report a rare bird [exit DNR] using a fillable report form. This form is used for species on Wisconsin's Natural Heritage Working List.
- Report a Whooping Crane [exit DNR] 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 [exit DNR] 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 [exit DNR] provides excellent accounts of all Wisconsin species, including range maps, illustrations, habitats, photos, sounds and more.
- The USGS's Dendroica [exit DNR] 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 [exit DNR] contains species accounts, habitat management guidance and other relevant conservation information.
- Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II [exit DNR] 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 [exit DNR] 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 [exit DNR] have many citizen-science programs for birders.
- "Who's Who" of bird citizen-based monitoring [exit DNR] connects birders to local efforts to collect information on birds and other taxa groups.
- Birder Certification Program [exit DNR] helps individuals develop bird skills and get certified to participate in essential monitoring efforts.
- The Bird Protection Fund [exit DNR] helps DNR and partners conserve the birds we love. Donate through the website or consider participating in the Great Wisconsin Birdathon.
- Bird City Wisconsin [exit DNR] 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, and 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 covers 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 [exit DNR] 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 [exit DNR] spans the entire winter.