Birding Report: Winter weather brings rare feathered finds
By Ryan Brady
DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program Biologist
WISCONSIN – 2021 provided another great year of Wisconsin birding, including over 190,000 eBird checklists tallying an incredible 350 species. Relive the highlights by checking out the recap from Wisconsin eBird at www.ebird.org/wi/news/2021-wisconsin-ebird-year-in-review.
The year ended with exciting rare sightings, such as the state’s third-ever sighting of a tufted duck in Milwaukee and a king eider in Pepin County. The new year is continuing this momentum with sightings of a purple sandpiper in Milwaukee and an ivory gull in Douglas County.
Other rare finds in recent weeks include Say’s phoebe in Sauk, slaty-backed gull in Dane, spotted towhee in Brown, Eurasian tree sparrow in Green, California gull in Milwaukee, and continued findings of male harlequin ducks in Sheboygan. A whooper swan in Dane and common shelduck in Fond du Lac are believed to have escaped from captivity, not wild vagrants. In addition, reports indicate several lingering warblers, including black-throated blue in Door, ovenbirds in Kenosha and Dane, orange-crowned in Milwaukee and a yellow-rumped exceptionally far north in Ashland. Several Baltimore orioles have been reported at feeders as well.
Beyond the rarities, bird activity has generally been good in most locations. Modest numbers of waterfowl linger at any open water, including trumpeter swans in the northwest and tundra swans in the south. Thousands of sandhill cranes and Canada geese continue across southern counties, and gull enthusiasts are enjoying picking through flocks of herring gulls for smaller numbers of ring-billed, black-backed, glaucous, Iceland and other unusual species.
Bird feeders have been busy during stretches of colder, snowier weather. Goldfinches are prevalent in the north, while siskins and a few purple finches have been notable in the south. Redpolls are common in many areas but are infrequently visiting feeders. Evening grosbeaks have been nearly absent this year after excellent numbers last winter. Away from feeders, white-winged crossbills can be found at spruce or hemlock cones statewide, and look for Bohemian waxwings among larger flocks of cedar waxwings at fruit or water sources. Pine grosbeaks have reached as far south as Green Bay.
American kestrels and short-eared owls are being seen in above-average numbers, while some snowy owls, rough-legged hawks, and northern harriers are frequenting similarly open habitats, especially near dawn and dusk. Look for flocks of snow buntings, horned larks, and Lapland longspurs here as well.