Kirtland's Warbler

Top 5 birds to find in Wisconsin

Each state in the US has its own unique set of habitats and animals that live within their borders. Among these animals are many bird species that only live in particular regions of the country and can sometimes not be easily found anywhere else in the world. One state that harbors a surprising array of bird species is Wisconsin. With a great lake to the east, boreal forest to the north, and migratory flyways overhead, Wisconsin is home to some rare species that can only be seen in a handful of places around the country. While there are plenty of birds to see in Wisconsin, there are 5 that stand out as signature species of the state that are extremely hard to find in most other regions of the United States. Here are the top five birds to find in the Wisconsin

5. Greater Prairie Chicken

Greater-prairie Chicken
Greater-prairie Chicken

At number five on our list is a species that can usually only be found on the Great Plains, the Greater Prairie Chicken. These stout, plump looking birds reside in grasslands and prairies where they feed on seeds, grains, fruits, and insects. Greater prairie chickens are listed as vulnerable after experiencing a massive decline in their population between 1966 and 2015. The reason this species is at number five on a list of birds to find in Wisconsin is that the dairy state is one of the only place to find greater prairie chickens east of the Mississippi river as a breeding population lives in the middle of the state. The most reliable place to see them is at the Buena Vista Grasslands where a management area is set aside for these birds. The easiest time to locate Greater Prairie Chickens is in winter when they can be found roosting in trees in the early morning or foraging in fields as they stand out better against the snow. The other time of year they can be found is during spring when they lek and males put on displays for females. The University of Wisconsin Stevens point allows people to rent blinds during this time to get a close up view of the Prairie Chickens lekking.

4. Snowy Owl

Badgerland Birding searches for Snowy Owls along Lake Michigan

Coming in at number four is a majestic bird species extremely recognizable to the general public, the Snowy Owl. Although they are thought of as a bird exclusive to the high arctic, some of them migrate south into the northern United States in winter, allowing people in many of the states bordering Canada a chance to see them on an annual basis. Some years, few snowy owls can be found in the US while other years many of them end up crossing the Canada border and occasionally even turn up as far south as the Carolinas. Even though there are a handful of states to find Snowy Owls in, they typically show up in relatively good numbers in Wisconsin and in places accessible to birders. Some spots to look for them are the rocks along the Lake Michigan coastline and in open farm fields, both of which can be found in copious amounts in Wisconsin.

3. Connecticut Warbler

Badgerland Birding searches for an elusive Connecticut Warbler

The first warbler on the list is a species that breeds in the most northern recesses of the state, the Connecticut Warbler. Connecticut Warblers are skulky, ground foraging, migratory birds with a yellow underside, a gray head, and a white eye ring. These secretive birds are notoriously difficult to find and are normally only seen or heard during migration. Speaking of migration, the Connecticut Warbler’s path from its wintering areas in South America through Florida, and then spreading out over the Great Lakes states and into Canada. The Connecticut warbler finds itself at number 3 on our list for a variety of reasons. First, the species as a whole has declined significantly since 1966 making it harder to find in general. Additionally, the range of this uncommon species is rather small compared to that of most warblers. Lastly, the majority of Connecticut warblers breed in Canada with the only states in the US harboring Connecticut Warblers during the breeding season being Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

2. Kirtland’s Warbler

Kirtland’s Warbler

Landing at number 2 in our countdown is the once federally endangered Kirtland’s Warbler. Identified by their gray backs with black streaks, yellow throat and underside, and white eye crescents, this species (which some consider to be the holy grail of Eastern United States warblers) is still a very rare sight in most parts of the country. While they are off the endangered list, there are still only about 4,800 individuals in the global breeding population. One of the reason’s the Kirtland’s Warbler is so rare, is because they are so picky about the habitat they breed in. This species only nests in Jack Pines generally between 5 and 15 feet tall. Any shorter or taller and they find the habitat to be unsuitable. Kirtland’s Warblers do migrate, spending most of the winter in the Bahamas, and can be seen occasionally along their migratory route, but the best place to see them is in their summer breeding grounds. The selectiveness of the Kirtland’s Warbler means there are only a few areas where they can be reliably found including some parts of Southern Canada, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

1. Whooping Crane

Check this video out to learn more about Whooping Cranes

The top bird in our contdown is one that’s hard to miss if it’s around: the whooping crane. This massive bird has a wing span of 229 cm and is certainly one of the largest bird species in North America. They can be identified by their all white coloration with black wing tips and red on their head and face. What makes the Whooping Crane such a coveted bird to find is the fact that there are so few of them in the wild. Back in 1941, there were only an estimated 21 Whooping cranes in existence. Fast forward to now and there are around 600 of them between the wild populations and those kept in captivity. While there are certainly more of them around today, and the species has been trending in a slightly better direction, they are still not all that easy to locate. In fact, there are 4 populations of Whooping Cranes in the United States. One that lives in Texas and migrates to Canada, one that lives in Louisiana year round, one that lives in Florida year round, and one that migrates from Florida to Wisconsin. Considering the conservation status of the Whooping Crane and their overall rarity in the world, makes them an extremely sought after bird to find not only in the state, but throughout the continent. This fact elevates the Whooping Crane to the top of the list of the five best birds to find in Wisconsin

Did you enjoy this post? Let us know in the comments below. If you’re interested in a guided tour of some of the best places to bird in Wisconsin, click here. And as always, thanks for reading, we’ll see you next time, on Badgerland Birding.

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