Statewide Birding Report as of October 23, 2020

Sparrows abound across Wisconsin! Attract up to a dozen species, such as this fox sparrow, with ground seed consisting of black oil sunflower, white millet, and cracked corn, and nearby cover. Photo by Ryan Brady.

Autumn’s landbird migration is beginning to wind down. Sparrows, blackbirds, robins and other short-distance migrants, such as ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, winter wrens, brown creepers and hermit thrushes, now dominate in many areas. In the north, dark eyed-juncos, fox sparrows, and American tree sparrows are especially prevalent. Southern locations, which have been decidedly milder, are hosting many of the same species as well as lingering eastern towhees, eastern bluebirds and a few warblers, particularly yellow-rumped, palm and orange-crowned. Even a few hummingbirds continue to be seen in our far most southeastern counties. Check carefully at this late date for species other than our typical ruby-throated.

Statewide, we are seeing the arrival of arctic migrants like rough-legged hawks, golden eagles, snow buntings, tundra swans, northern shrikes and short-eared owls. Pine siskins aren’t quite as prevalent as they were just a couple weeks ago but plenty are still visiting feeders, weedy fields and tree seeds in many locations. Although common redpolls have not been documented yet they may show up in the north any time now. On the other hand, both crossbills are already moving south in small numbers and could turn up at pine, spruce and other cone crops near you. Purple finches and red-breasted nuthatches continue to show well. All of these lend promise to a potentially good season for winter bird watching.

Waterbird migration has been a mixed bag with some locations, mostly at larger water bodies, reporting good numbers of loons, ducks and grebes, and others hosting relatively few birds so far. Common and a few red-throated loons are on the move, especially along the Great Lakes. Also look there for horned and red-necked grebes, all three scoter species, some long-tailed ducks and flocks of Bonaparte’s gulls. At inland lakes, birders are finding rafts of hundreds of American coots, some pied-billed grebes and a decent number of northern pintail among other dabblers. Notably, a few blue-winged teal are lingering later than usual, and flocks of greater white-fronted geese were found from Dane to Horicon to Fond du Lac this past week. Shorebirds are relatively few now, although dunlin are known for peaking in late October and both Wilson’s snipe and American woodcock, along with others like greater yellowlegs, will linger into November.

Some of this week’s rarest sightings were painted bunting in Waukesha, Sabine’s gull in Ashland, California gull in Jefferson, varied thrush in Ozaukee, Eurasian tree sparrow in Dane and white-winged dove in Sheboygan. Don’t expect too much change in bird life over the week ahead, although landbirds will continue to slowly depart and waterbirds will hopefully pick up soon as cold weather persists from northern Wisconsin into southern Canada. Find out what others are seeing and report your observations to Good birding!

– Ryan Brady, DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program biologist



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