Birding Report: ‘Winter finches’ showing excellent diversity, numbers
By Ryan Brady
DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program biologist
WISCONSIN – Winter finches, waterbirds, and a long list of rarities headline this week’s report. After a very poor year in 2019, the “winter finches” are already defying predictions by showing in excellent diversity and numbers.
First it was purple finches and pine siskins, then came both white-winged and red crossbills, and now it’s common redpolls and evening grosbeaks, the latter showing at feeders statewide for the first time in years. Northern birders are also finding pine grosbeaks and, to a lesser extent, Bohemian waxwings. Attract many of these species with black oil sunflower seeds and a water source. Redpolls and siskins also enjoy nyjer (thistle), while spruces with good cone crops offer the best chance of spotting white-winged crossbills. Weedy fields, fruiting shrubs, and seeds of ash, maple, and boxelder are also places to watch.
Waterbirds have moved in significantly since our last report. Lake Michigan is hosting large numbers of red-breasted mergansers, increasing numbers of long-tailed ducks, all three scoters, a variety of diving ducks, and both common and red-throated loons. At our western border, the Upper Mississippi River now features huge numbers of canvasbacks (50% of the continental population uses this flyway), high numbers of pintail and wigeon, and a wide variety of divers and dabblers. Also, look for thousands of tundra swans there now, especially near the Brownsville, Minnesota, overlook south of La Crosse. Elsewhere in Wisconsin, Madison Audubon’s Goose Pond Sanctuary, Horicon Marsh, and Crex Meadows SWA are great places for waterbirding this time of year, as are many other high-quality lakes and wetlands.
Sandhill cranes continue to stage in large flocks. A few shorebirds are holding on, especially dunlin, greater yellowlegs, and black-bellied and American golden-plovers. Rough-legged hawks are particularly plentiful this year so expect better than average numbers until deeper snowcover persists. Short-eared owls have also arrived to similarly open, rodent-rich habitats, where you might also find horned larks, snow buntings, and American tree sparrows.
It was an incredible 10-day stretch for rare birds, which included a black-throated gray warbler in Dane, mountain bluebird in Dodge, Anna’s hummingbird in Winnebago, brant in both Kewaunee and Manitowoc, spotted towhee in Sauk, little gull and Pacific loon in Bayfield, Sabine’s gull and Townsend’s solitaire in Ashland, harlequin ducks in Ozaukee and Milwaukee, summer tanagers in La Crosse and Ozaukee, American avocet in Dane, Ross’s geese in a few locations, and a few likely hoary redpolls from several sites.
Help us track their movements by reporting your finds to www.ebird.org/wi.