Statewide Birding Report as of March 19, 2020

Weekly birding report

Waterfowl are putting on a show across southern Wisconsin right now, including diving ducks like the canvasbacks, redheads, scaup, and ring-necked ducks pictured here. Photo by Ryan Brady.

Southern Wisconsin saw a big surge in waterfowl at increasing amounts of open water this week. Duck diversity and abundance is now outstanding in many locations there, including both dabblers and divers like pintails, wigeons, shovelers, scaup, redheads, and more. Canvasbacks showed especially well, including counts over 1000 in Dane County, 600 in Jefferson, and thousands farther west on the Mississippi River. Over 200 redheads were tallied in Manitowoc, 400+ ruddy ducks in Rock, and 1200 American coots in Dane. Large numbers of Canada and greater white-fronted geese were seen, with a few snow, Ross’s, and cackling geese among them. Tundra swans are nearing peak numbers as they rest and refuel here en route from wintering areas on the Atlantic coast to arctic nesting grounds. Thousands were seen in ag fields from Columbia to Brown Counties, with good numbers along the Mississippi also. Other waterbird arrivals include American white pelican, common loon, blue-winged teal, and more great blue herons to rookeries and area wetlands. Sandhill cranes are showing in big numbers, including a count of over 1300 in Jefferson on March 17. Landbirds of note in the south include fox sparrows and rusty blackbirds, as well as the first trickle of tree swallows, eastern phoebes, and yellow-rumped warblers.

Up north, the first small wave of robins, red-winged blackbirds, common grackles, ring-billed gulls, and American woodcock has arrived. More rough-legged hawks are being seen as snow depths decrease, while trumpeter swans, Canada geese, common goldeneye, and a few other waterfowl are prevalent. Wild turkeys were heard gobbling, and a count of 2400 herring gulls near Superior was quite impressive. American goldfinches are starting to molt into their bright yellow plumage, countered nicely by a few purple finches at area feeders. Migration of bald and golden eagles will likely peak over the week ahead, while diversity of most raptors will continue to increase into early April.

The week’s rarest bird was a western grebe that continues to be seen in Ozaukee’s Port Washington harbor, along with several red-throated loons and other waterbirds. Also of note was a belated report of a gray-crowned rosy-finch in Dodge on March 6, marking only the 6th state record. Expect plenty of new migrants this week from Sunday through Wednesday as a southerly flow of winds sets up through much of that time. Birding can be a great activity to practice while social distancing but be sure to take proper precautions. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology also recently offered a great list of online resources for learning about birds at home. Good birding!

– Ryan Brady, DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program biologist


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