Holiday Birding Report as of Dec. 18, 2020

                    Pine Grosbeak
Pine grosbeaks are among the "winter finches" arriving in great numbers in Wisconsin and other parts of the eastern U.S. Photo by Ryan Brady

In a year many might want to forget, birds continue to brighten the Wisconsin landscape, including some in numbers not seen in years. Pine siskins, evening grosbeaks, and other “winter finches” have descended out of the Canadian boreal forest into the eastern United States, providing birdwatchers welcome excitement that promises to take some of the chill out of this winter season.
Many of these northern species had banner nesting seasons but then poor tree seed and fruit crops across Canada forced the birds south in search of food. It’s not uncommon for one or two of these northern species to overwinter here but this season has already seen unusually good numbers in six or seven species, an event dubbed by researchers as a “superflight.”
First came red-breasted nuthatches and purple finches in late summer, then droves of pine siskins in early fall, and soon after both white-winged and red crossbills. Late October and early November brought more evening grosbeaks than any year in recent memory. Pine grosbeaks and Bohemian waxwings weren’t far behind in the north woods, while redpolls soon spread statewide. 

How to attract these “winter finches” to your feeder

Many of these species can be attracted to backyard bird feeders, especially as winter progresses and local supplies of natural foods are exhausted.

  • The single best seed to offer is black oil sunflower, which has high fat content and attracts the most species.
  • Small finches like siskins and redpolls prefer nyjer (thistle), while white millet and suet can be great additions for ground-feeders and woodpeckers, respectively.
  • Provide a heated water dish that is deep enough for birds to drink from but not bathe.
  • Every week or two clean all food and water sources to minimize diseases like salmonellosis and keep birds healthy.

Join in Christmas Bird Count through Jan. 5, 2021

Make your bird sightings count for conservation over the holidays. Spend one day participating in Audubon’s 121st Christmas Bird Count, which runs from Dec. 14, 2020, to Jan. 5, 2021. It’s easy and safe to participate in your backyard or beyond.
The Christmas Bird Count is one of the largest and longest running citizen science projects in the world. It provides a snapshot of North America’s early winter bird populations and the only broad-scale assessment of their trends over time. 
Each count is conducted on a single day where volunteer bird watchers scour a pre-established, 15-mile diameter circle. Wisconsin has over 100 circles across many areas of the state. View a map and learn how to participate from Audubon.

– Ryan Brady, DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program biologist

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