Category Archives: 2022 Birding Blog

Finches of Illinois (10 Species to Know)

Finches are a group of relatively small passerine birds that travel in flocks. Many finch species visit bird feeders and are very familiar to people while others are a bit more rare to see.

In Illinois, there are 10 finch species that show up on an annual basis that are certainly worth getting to know in order to maximize your experience with them at your bird feeder or out in the field.

American Goldfinch

Male breeding plumage American Goldfinch
Nonbreeding plumage American Goldfinch
Identification

During the breeding months, American Goldfinches are extremely colorful with males having bright yellow covering most of their bodies, a black cap on their head, black wings, and a black partially forked tail. In nonbreeding plumage, these birds are more dull with brownish bodies, a yellowish head, and black wings with white wing bars. Females in breeding plumage are still bright yellow but not to the same degree as the males.  Females also have less black on the top of their head. 

Range

American Goldfinshes can be found throughout most of the United States with the species following a typical migratior path of traveling south in winter and north into Canada to breed in summer. They are also found year round in many of the Midwestern, Northeastern, and Northwestern states.

Diet and Foraging Habits

American Goldfinches have a diet consisting of seeds. Some of their preferred seeds are sunflower and nyjer. American Goldfinches typically feed in flocks (with some flocks becoming quite large) and will also feed alongside other finch species such as Common Redpolls, and Pine Siskins.

Where to Find This Bird

In their native range, American Goldfinches are plentiful and easy to find. Search for this species in fields with tall weeds and grass, both deciduous and coniferous forests, parks, and of course backyards. Finch feeders with nyjer, thistle, or sunflower seeds are great attractants for this species.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll
Identification

The Common Redpoll is a compact finch species with a small, stubby, pointed yellow bill. They have a brown back streaked with cream, black above and below their bill, and a red patch on their head. Males have a rosy wash on their chest and flanks along with some streaking on their sides. Females and immature birds do not have noticeable red wash but do have dark streaking on their underside and flanks.

Range

Common Redpolls breed in the extreme Northern parts of Canada and Alaska as well as Southern Greenland. In winter, they migrate south into Southern Canada and the Northern United States. This species is irruptive and on years when food is scarce in the North, they expand farther into the United States and in greater numbers. The amount of Redpolls in the United States as well as the locations they spread to vary depending on the year.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Common Redpolls eat small seeds from trees such as birches, alders, and conifers. They will also eat berries and seeds from wildflowers. Common Redpolls are very acrobatic feeders, often foraging in large groups and hanging upside down as they pry seeds out of cones.

Where to Find This Bird

Common Redpolls follow the food and will show up wherever there are plentiful seeds to eat. When they are around, their buzzy calls can be heard in flight, and keeping an eye out for flocks of them in and around conifer trees will typically yield results. During irruption years, swarms of these birds will descend on bird feeders creating quite the spectacle. Thistle, nyjer, and sunflower seeds are all common bird feeder fill that will attract Common Redpolls.

Common Redpolls during an irruption year

European Goldfinch

European Goldfinch
Identification

In breeding plumage, European Goldfinches sport a bright red face with black near the base of the bill, back of the head, and wings. A patch of yellow can also be found on the wings. Their body is a brownish-buffy color with white on the underside and on the head between their red face and black stripe.

Range

European Goldfinches are native to Europe, Asia, and parts of Northern Africa. Some birds escaped captivity in the United States and established populations. The largest of these populations occur in Illinois, Wisconsin, and New York.

Diet and Foraging Habits

European Goldfinches feed primarily on seeds, especially those of the smaller variety such as thistles. They will often make appearances at bird feeders.

Where to Find This Bird

Look for European Goldfinches in wooded areas, around edge habitat, and even in more suburban locations. In the United States this species seems quite nomadic and doesn’t seem to stay in the same place for very long with the exception of some locations where they visit the same bird feeders repeatedly.

Evening Grosbeak

Male Evening Grosbeak
Identification

Evening Grosbeaks are an extremely bright looking species. Males have electric yellow undersides, backs, and markings on their head just above the eye. They have black wings, a black tail, clean white wing patches, and an extremely thick bill. Females and immature birds are mostly gray with a yellow nape, black wings, and a black tail with white patches on them.

Range

The Evening Grosbeak’s range is somewhat misleading. They are year round residents of Southern Canada and some parts of the Western United States. Most maps show their wintering range covering most of Michigan, Wisconsin, and New England, but through my experience, most winters Evening Grosbeaks only inhabit the most northern parts of these areas. Evening Grosbeaks do have years in which they fly farther South during winter but in recent years they have not irrupted in the same way that records from the past show. Additionally, the range of this species seems to be receding farther north into Canada each year.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Evening Grosbeaks have different diets depending on the time of year. During summer, they feed primarily on insects and other invertebrates, most notably spruce budworm larva. Other times of the year, Evening Grosbeaks eat various types of seeds including seeds from fruits.

Where to Find This Bird

Evening Grosbeaks can be found in conifer forests. They also can be found near bird feeders in their native range.

Badgerland Birding searches for an Evening Grosbeak in Milwaukee, WI

Hoary Redpoll (Rare)

Hoary Redpoll – Photo by Ryan Brady
Identification

The Hoary Redpoll is a small frosty looking finch species with a brownish gray back, a tiny yellow bill, a white underside with very faint streaking, and a a bright red patch of color on their head. Males have a faint red wash on their chest. This species is quite similar looking to the Common Redpoll and is expected to be lumped together with them in the near future.

If you’d like to know more about telling the Hoary and the Common Redpoll apart, click here to read about their difference or watch the video below.

In depth comparison of Common Redpoll and Hoary Redpoll
Range

Hoary Redpolls live extremely far north in North America, Europe and Eastern Asia. They breed in the Arctic tundra of Greenland, Russia, and Northern Canada. They do move south in the winter but don’t move too far into the United States most years with the exception of irruption years. Some of the Great Lakes sets get these birds annually.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Hoary Redpolls feed on small seeds from trees, grasses, and weeds. They also consume insects and buds. Like the Common Redpoll, Hoary Redpolls are very acrobatic while foraging, often hanging upside-down and voraciously picking seeds out of cones.

Where to Find This Bird

Hoary Redpolls can be found in tundra habitat in their breeding range. In their nonbreeding range, look for this specie mixed in with flocks of Common Redpolls in areas with plentiful food such as fields, conifer forests, and even backyard bird feeders.

House Finch

Male House Finch
Identification

Male House Finches have brown backs and wings with a bright red head, throat, and chest. They have streaking on their sides and and a brown stripe on their face. Female House Finches look the same as the males but without the bright red.

House Finches look very similar to Purple Finches. For tips on differentiating between the two, click here to read about it or watch the video below.

Learn the differences between the House Finch and the Purple Finch
Range

House Finches have a very interesting range. They were originally native to the Western half of the United States and Mexico, but were brought over to the Eastern half of the US and now inhabit both the East and the West, but not parts of the Central US. House Finches are generally nonmigratory and stick to the same areas year round.

Diet and Foraging Habits

House Finches eat seeds and other plant materials such as buds and fruits. They are common around urban backyard bird feeders where they will consume millet and sunflower seeds among other things.

Where to Find This Bird

House Finches are accustomed to spending time near humans, often being found in parks and backyards with bird feeders. This species can also be found in many different natural habitats as well including but not limited to oak and conifer forests.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin
Identification

Pine Siskins are an overall brownish tan color with cream colored wing bars and a lighter colored underside. They have heavy streaking on the sides and a lighter colored eye brow stripe. Pine Siskins ihave bright yellow edging on their wing and tail feathers.

Range

Pine Siskins have an extremely expansive range across the US and Canada. They live year round in Southern Canada, the Northern United States, and parts of the Western United States and Mexico. In summer, the breeding range of Pine Siskins extends up into Canada and Southwestern Alaska. In winter, Pine Siskins southern movements vary wildly from year to year with the species sometimes making it well into Mexico and the Southeastern US.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Pine Siskins eat a wide variety of food items including insects, buds, and seeds. The majority of their diet during the colder months is seeds ranging from seeds of deciduous trees to those of conifers. As their name would suggest, they are particularly fond of the seeds of pine trees. Pine Siskins are often found feeding in flocks flying from tree to tree and making their distinctive, buzzy call.

Where to Find This Bird

Pine Siskins live in a variety of habitats including deciduous and coniferous woods, parks, and backyards. If it’s the right time of year for them, exploring pine and other conifer forests will often times lead to an encounter. Another great place to find these lively birds is at home bird feeders where they will eat alongside other finch species such as American Goldfinches and House Finches.

Finding Pine Siskins during an irruption year

Purple Finch

Purple Finch
Identification

Male Purple Finches are stunning birds with a rosy pink wine-stained color on their back, head, and chest. They have dark brown wings and a brown colored tail. Male Purple Finches also have lighter and darker variations of pink on their face giving them the look of having an eye stripe. Females completely lack the rosy pink color of the males and have brown wings with cream colored undersides and a noticeable cream colored eye brow stripe. They also have streaking on their chest and sides.

Sometime Purple Finches can be hard to tell apart from House Finches. To find out how to differentiate between the two, click here to read our article about it or check out the video below.

Learn the differences between the House Finch and the Purple Finch
Range

Purple Finches live year round in the Northeastern states, Northern Great Lakes states, and West Coast states of the US as well as Southeastern Canada. Their summer range expands farther north into Canada and they move south in the winter (mostly in the Eastern United States).

Diet and Foraging Habits

Purple Finches eat many different types of seeds and berries. They will also eat soft buds from plants and feed on nectar from flowers.

Where to Find This Bird

Purple Finches can be found in forested areas with conifer forests seeming to be the preferred habitat. In winter, look for these birds near feeding stations where the males will stand out.

Badgerland Birding searches for Purple Finches

Red Crossbill

Male Red Crossbill – Photo by U.S. Forest Service- Pacific Northwest Region
Identification

Male Red Crossbills are orangish red with brownish black wings and a brownish black tail. They have a marking that goes over their eye and is not terribly noticable unless seen at close range. Females are yellowish in color with brownish gray wings. Red Crossbills get their name for their interesting bill structure. The mandibles are crossed, making it easy for this species to open up pine cones to extract seeds.

Range

The range of Red Crossbills is complicated. They are extremely nomadic and will simply travel to where the food is. In general, this species is a year round resident of Western and Southern Canada, the Western and Northern forests of the United States, and parts of Mexico. During winter, they move into the the rest of the United States in search of fruitful cone crops. In any given year they may stay relatively far north or make it as far south as Texas and Mexico.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Red Crossbills are specialized to feed on conifer cones and do so by placing their crossed mandibles in-between the scales of the cones. They then open up the cone and eat the seed out of it. These birds typically feed in flocks and will descend on a tree together, feasting in what looks and sounds like a frenzy.

Where to Find This Bird

Red Crossbills can certainly be a tough species to get a read on. The best time to find them is to during an irruption year when many of them flood into the continental US. During these times, keep an eye out for conifer trees with healthy cone crops. Another good way to find this species is by listening for their “jip jip” flight call.

It’s worth noting that Red Crossbills have several different “types.” Each of these types has a slightly different call and habitat preference. It’s possible that at some point these birds could be split into multiple species

White-winged Crossbill

Male White-winged Crossbill
Identification

Male White-winged Crossbills are bright red with black wings, white wing bars, a black tail, a light colored under tail, and dark markings on their cheeks. Females are yellowish with darker wings, streaking on the underside, and dark cheek marks. Both males and females have the same crossed mandibles, differentiating them from most other finch species.

Range

White-winged Crossbills are year round residents of Canada, parts of Alaska, and parts of the Western and Midwestern United States. In winter, they move south into the continental United States. How far south they go depends on how much food is available in their typical range.

Diet and Foraging Habits

White-winged Crossbills feed on the seeds of conifer trees, particularly those of tamaracks and spruces. They will also eat spiders, insects, and buds. White-winged Crossbills usually feed in flocks, arriving at conifer trees and quickly getting to work pulling out seeds with their specialized mandibles.

Where to Find This Bird

White-winged Crossbills can be found in stands of conifers with good cone crops. They will move around frequently, often chattering as they fly in a group. For people in the continental United States, fall and winter are the best times to see White-winged Crossbills.

Summary

Finches are energetic and exciting birds to be able to find or have around your yard. Knowing more about the species that are expected in your area can be instrumental in finding and identifying them, especially since they have such irregular migratory patterns. Hopefully, this article has helped to answer some questions about the finches of Illinois.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

Finches of Michigan (10 Species to Know)

Finches are a group of relatively small passerine birds that travel in flocks. Many finch species visit bird feeders and are very familiar to people while others are a bit rarer to see.

In Michigan, there are 10 finch species that show up on an annual basis that are certainly worth getting to know in order to maximize your experience with them at your bird feeder or out in the field.

American Goldfinch

Male breeding plumage American Goldfinch
Nonbreeding plumage American Goldfinch
Identification

During the breeding months, American Goldfinches are extremely colorful with males having bright yellow covering most of their bodies, a black cap on their head, black wings, and a black partially forked tail. In nonbreeding plumage, these birds are more dull with brownish bodies, a yellowish head, and black wings with white wing bars. Females in breeding plumage are still bright yellow but not to the same degree as the males.  Females also have less black on the top of their head. 

Range

American Goldfinshes can be found throughout most of the United States with the species following a typical migratior path of traveling south in winter and north into Canada to breed in summer. They are also found year round in many of the Midwestern, Northeastern, and Northwestern states.

Diet and Foraging Habits

American Goldfinches have a diet consisting of seeds. Some of their preferred seeds are sunflower and nyjer. American Goldfinches typically feed in flocks (with some flocks becoming quite large) and will also feed alongside other finch species such as Common Redpolls, and Pine Siskins.

Where to Find This Bird

In their native range, American Goldfinches are plentiful and easy to find. Search for this species in fields with tall weeds and grass, both deciduous and coniferous forests, parks, and of course backyards. Finch feeders with nyjer, thistle, or sunflower seeds are great attractants for this species.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll
Identification

The Common Redpoll is a compact finch species with a small, stubby, pointed yellow bill. They have a brown back streaked with cream, black above and below their bill, and a red patch on their head. Males have a rosy wash on their chest and flanks along with some streaking on their sides. Females and immature birds do not have noticeable red wash but do have dark streaking on their underside and flanks.

Range

Common Redpolls breed in the extreme Northern parts of Canada and Alaska as well as Southern Greenland. In winter, they migrate south into Southern Canada and the Northern United States. This species is irruptive and on years when food is scarce in the North, they expand farther into the United States and in greater numbers. The amount of Redpolls in the United States as well as the locations they spread to vary depending on the year.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Common Redpolls eat small seeds from trees such as birches, alders, and conifers. They will also eat berries and seeds from wildflowers. Common Redpolls are very acrobatic feeders, often foraging in large groups and hanging upside down as they pry seeds out of cones.

Where to Find This Bird

Common Redpolls follow the food and will show up wherever there are plentiful seeds to eat. When they are around, their buzzy calls can be heard in flight, and keeping an eye out for flocks of them in and around conifer trees will typically yield results. During irruption years, swarms of these birds will descend on bird feeders creating quite the spectacle. Thistle, nyjer, and sunflower seeds are all common bird feeder fill that will attract Common Redpolls.

Common Redpolls during an irruption year

Evening Grosbeak

Male Evening Grosbeak
Identification

Evening Grosbeaks are an extremely bright looking species. Males have electric yellow undersides, backs, and markings on their head just above the eye. They have black wings, a black tail, clean white wing patches, and an extremely thick bill. Females and immature birds are mostly gray with a yellow nape, black wings, and a black tail with white patches on them.

Range

The Evening Grosbeak’s range is somewhat misleading. They are year-round residents of Southern Canada and some parts of the Western United States. Most maps show their wintering range covering most of Michigan, Wisconsin, and New England, but through my experience, most winters Evening Grosbeaks only inhabit the most northern parts of these areas. Evening Grosbeaks do have years in which they fly farther South during winter but in recent years they have not irrupted in the same way that records from the past show. Additionally, the range of this species seems to be receding farther north into Canada each year.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Evening Grosbeaks have different diets depending on the time of year. During summer, they feed primarily on insects and other invertebrates, most notably spruce budworm larva. Other times of the year, Evening Grosbeaks eat various types of seeds including seeds from fruits.

Where to Find This Bird

Evening Grosbeaks can be found in conifer forests. They also can be found near bird feeders in their native range.

Badgerland Birding searches for an Evening Grosbeak in Milwaukee, WI

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll – Photo by Ryan Brady
Identification

The Hoary Redpoll is a small frosty looking finch species with a brownish gray back, a tiny yellow bill, a white underside with very faint streaking, and a a bright red patch of color on their head. Males have a faint red wash on their chest. This species is quite similar looking to the Common Redpoll and is expected to be lumped together with them in the near future.

If you’d like to know more about telling the Hoary and the Common Redpoll apart, click here to read about their difference or watch the video below.

In depth comparison of Common Redpoll and Hoary Redpoll
Range

Hoary Redpolls live extremely far north in North America, Europe and Eastern Asia. They breed in the Arctic tundra of Greenland, Russia, and Northern Canada. They do move south in the winter but don’t move too far into the United States most years with the exception of irruption years. Some of the Great Lakes sets get these birds annually.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Hoary Redpolls feed on small seeds from trees, grasses, and weeds. They also consume insects and buds. Like the Common Redpoll, Hoary Redpolls are very acrobatic while foraging, often hanging upside-down and voraciously picking seeds out of cones.

Where to Find This Bird

Hoary Redpolls can be found in tundra habitat in their breeding range. In their nonbreeding range, look for this specie mixed in with flocks of Common Redpolls in areas with plentiful food such as fields, conifer forests, and even backyard bird feeders.

House Finch

Male House Finch
Identification

Male House Finches have brown backs and wings with a bright red head, throat, and chest. They have streaking on their sides and and a brown stripe on their face. Female House Finches look the same as the males but without the bright red.

House Finches look very similar to Purple Finches. For tips on differentiating between the two, click here to read about it or watch the video below.

Learn the differences between the House Finch and the Purple Finch
Range

House Finches have a very interesting range. They were originally native to the Western half of the United States and Mexico, but were brought over to the Eastern half of the US and now inhabit both the East and the West, but not parts of the Central US. House Finches are generally nonmigratory and stick to the same areas year round.

Diet and Foraging Habits

House Finches eat seeds and other plant materials such as buds and fruits. They are common around urban backyard bird feeders where they will consume millet and sunflower seeds among other things.

Where to Find This Bird

House Finches are accustomed to spending time near humans, often being found in parks and backyards with bird feeders. This species can also be found in many different natural habitats as well including but not limited to oak and conifer forests.

Pine Grosbeak

Male Pine Grosbeak
Identification

Male Pine Grosbeaks are a rosy reddish pink color with dark gray wings, two white wing bars, and a gray under tail. Females and immature males are mostly gray with yellow to orange coloration on the head, back, rump, and sometimes the chest. It’s worth noting that Pine Grosbeaks vary slightly in color based on region.

Range

Pine Grosbeaks live year round in the northern parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. In North America, this species breeds in the forests of Canada along with some parts of the continental United States and Alaska. In winter, Pine Grosbeaks move south into states in the Midwest and Northeast.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Pine Grosbeaks primarily feed on fruits and seeds, but will also eat insects and other invertebrates when available.

Where to Find This Bird

To find Pine Grosbeaks, one must go to where their food source is. They show up at bird feeders as well as places with fruit trees. In winter, remaining crabapples and other ornamental trees are big draws for this species. Some places that often plant these types of trees are cemeteries and school campuses.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin
Identification

Pine Siskins are an overall brownish tan color with cream colored wing bars and a lighter colored underside. They have heavy streaking on the sides and a lighter colored eye brow stripe. Pine Siskins ihave bright yellow edging on their wing and tail feathers.

Range

Pine Siskins have an extremely expansive range across the US and Canada. They live year round in Southern Canada, the Northern United States, and parts of the Western United States and Mexico. In summer, the breeding range of Pine Siskins extends up into Canada and Southwestern Alaska. In winter, Pine Siskins southern movements vary wildly from year to year with the species sometimes making it well into Mexico and the Southeastern US.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Pine Siskins eat a wide variety of food items including insects, buds, and seeds. The majority of their diet during the colder months is seeds ranging from seeds of deciduous trees to those of conifers. As their name would suggest, they are particularly fond of the seeds of pine trees. Pine Siskins are often found feeding in flocks flying from tree to tree and making their distinctive, buzzy call.

Where to Find This Bird

Pine Siskins live in a variety of habitats including deciduous and coniferous woods, parks, and backyards. If it’s the right time of year for them, exploring pine and other conifer forests will often times lead to an encounter. Another great place to find these lively birds is at home bird feeders where they will eat alongside other finch species such as American Goldfinches and House Finches.

Finding Pine Siskins during an irruption year

Purple Finch

Purple Finch
Identification

Male Purple Finches are stunning birds with a rosy pink wine-stained color on their back, head, and chest. They have dark brown wings and a brown colored tail. Male Purple Finches also have lighter and darker variations of pink on their face giving them the look of having an eye stripe. Females completely lack the rosy pink color of the males and have brown wings with cream colored undersides and a noticeable cream colored eye brow stripe. They also have streaking on their chest and sides.

Sometime Purple Finches can be hard to tell apart from House Finches. To find out how to differentiate between the two, click here to read our article about it or check out the video below.

Learn the differences between the House Finch and the Purple Finch
Range

Purple Finches live year round in the Northeastern states, Northern Great Lakes states, and West Coast states of the US as well as Southeastern Canada. Their summer range expands farther north into Canada and they move south in the winter (mostly in the Eastern United States).

Diet and Foraging Habits

Purple Finches eat many different types of seeds and berries. They will also eat soft buds from plants and feed on nectar from flowers.

Where to Find This Bird

Purple Finches can be found in forested areas with conifer forests seeming to be the preferred habitat. In winter, look for these birds near feeding stations where the males will stand out.

Badgerland Birding searches for Purple Finches

Red Crossbill

Male Red Crossbill – Photo by U.S. Forest Service- Pacific Northwest Region
Identification

Male Red Crossbills are orangish red with brownish black wings and a brownish black tail. They have a marking that goes over their eye and is not terribly noticable unless seen at close range. Females are yellowish in color with brownish gray wings. Red Crossbills get their name for their interesting bill structure. The mandibles are crossed, making it easy for this species to open up pine cones to extract seeds.

Range

The range of Red Crossbills is complicated. They are extremely nomadic and will simply travel to where the food is. In general, this species is a year round resident of Western and Southern Canada, the Western and Northern forests of the United States, and parts of Mexico. During winter, they move into the the rest of the United States in search of fruitful cone crops. In any given year they may stay relatively far north or make it as far south as Texas and Mexico.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Red Crossbills are specialized to feed on conifer cones and do so by placing their crossed mandibles in-between the scales of the cones. They then open up the cone and eat the seed out of it. These birds typically feed in flocks and will descend on a tree together, feasting in what looks and sounds like a frenzy.

Where to Find This Bird

Red Crossbills can certainly be a tough species to get a read on. The best time to find them is to during an irruption year when many of them flood into the continental US. During these times, keep an eye out for conifer trees with healthy cone crops. Another good way to find this species is by listening for their “jip jip” flight call.

It’s worth noting that Red Crossbills have several different “types.” Each of these types has a slightly different call and habitat preference. It’s possible that at some point these birds could be split into multiple species

White-winged Crossbill

Male White-winged Crossbill
Identification

Male White-winged Crossbills are bright red with black wings, white wing bars, a black tail, a light colored under tail, and dark markings on their cheeks. Females are yellowish with darker wings, streaking on the underside, and dark cheek marks. Both males and females have the same crossed mandibles, differentiating them from most other finch species.

Range

White-winged Crossbills are year round residents of Canada, parts of Alaska, and parts of the Western and Midwestern United States. In winter, they move south into the continental United States. How far south they go depends on how much food is available in their typical range.

Diet and Foraging Habits

White-winged Crossbills feed on the seeds of conifer trees, particularly those of tamaracks and spruces. They will also eat spiders, insects, and buds. White-winged Crossbills usually feed in flocks, arriving at conifer trees and quickly getting to work pulling out seeds with their specialized mandibles.

Where to Find This Bird

White-winged Crossbills can be found in stands of conifers with good cone crops. They will move around frequently, often chattering as they fly in a group. For people in the continental United States, fall and winter are the best times to see White-winged Crossbills.

Summary

Finches are energetic and exciting birds to be able to find or have around your yard. Knowing more about the species that are expected in your area can be instrumental in finding and identifying them, especially since they have such irregular migratory patterns. Hopefully, this article has helped to answer some questions about the finches of Michigan.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

Cormorants of Massachusetts (2 Species to Know)

Cormorants are slender diving waterbirds with a distinctive shape and set of habits. While there are many cormorant species that live in North America, there are only two that can typically be found in Massachusetts, here is everything you need to know about these two species.

Great Cormorant

Great Cormorant – Caroline Jones Photo
Identification

Great Cormorants are larger than other Eastern Cormorant species. They look different depending on the region with some subspecies having more white on their head and neck. The birds in Eastern North America are glossy dark brown to black with white on their flanks and throat. They also have an orangey colored gular patch. Birds in nonbreeding plumage are a chocolatey brown color.

Range

Great Cormorants are extremely wide spread with the species being found in North America, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia. In North America they reside on the East Coast from Southeastern Canada all the way south to Florida and even the Gulf Coast.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Great Cormorants are specialists at hunting for and eating fish. They are known to specialize in bottom dwelling fish that they pull from crevices in rocks. They typically forage in shallower water under 50 feet in depth.

Where to Find This Bird

In the United States, look for Great Cormorants on rocky coasts in the states along the Atlantic Ocean. In particular, the more Northern States in New England are some of the places this species is most common.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant
Identification

Adult Double-crested Cormorants have a dark brown to black head, neck, back, underside and wings. Juveniles will be lighter brown in color with a lighter throat and underside. Both adults and juveniles have orange by the eyes and base of the bill as well as a turquoise colored eye. Breeding adult birds have two tufts on their head that can sometimes be hard to see, but these crests are what this species is named for.

Range

Double-crested Cormorants live year round along the Pacific Coast of North America from Northwestern Mexico all the way up to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. They also live year round in parts of Florida. This species winters in in the Southeastern United States and Northeastern Mexico. In spring, they move into the Northern United States and Southern Canada where they can be seen migrating in large flocks.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Double-crested Cormorants primarily eat fish which they catch by hunting them underwater. They will also eat other aquatic creature such as crustaceans and amphibians.

Where to Find This Bird

Double-crested Cormorants can be found in a variety of places with all of them usually being near bodies of water. Look for this species in trees lining lakes and ponds as well as in marshes. Often times, Double-crested Cormorants will congregate in large groups on islands or other places with adequate perches as they dry their wings and survey for prey.

Summary

Cormorants are unique, lanky birds that are a common sight near the water. Knowing the habits, range, and key identification features of each of these species can be incredibly useful in knowing what to look for in the field.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

Wrens of Minnesota (5 Species to Know)

Wrens are goofy and fast moving little birds that are absolutely loaded with attitude. Due to their small size and quickness, they can be very difficult to identify. Luckily, many of them have differences in habitat as well as some key features to keep an eye out for that can be used to help differentiate them.

In Minnesota, there are four common wren species and one that can be a bit more difficult to find. Here is everything that you need to know about these five species.

Carolina Wren (Rare)

Carolina wren
Identification

Carolina Wrens are on the larger side among wrens. They have a reddish brown back, head, and wings with a peach colored underside. They have a white throat and a very well defined white eye stripe.

Range

Carolina Wrens are not migratory and live throughout the Eastern United States with the exception of some of the states in the Northeast and the Midwest. They can be found as far west as Texas and as far south as Mexico and even some Central American Countries. The Carolina Wren’s range is actually believed to be expanding as they are showing up farther and farther north each year.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Carolina Wrens eat many different varieties of invertebrates including spiders, moths, and crickets among others. They also eat pulp and seeds from fruit in addition to small vertebrates on occasion.

Where to Find This Bird

Carolina Wrens live in a variety of habitats ranging from woodlands, to scrubland, to backyards. Typically, anywhere that has some sort of cover will serve as a good home for this species. Carolina Wrens are often heard before they are seen, making a call that some say sounds like a tea kettle.

House Wren

House Wren
Identification

House Wrens are a small, grayish brown species that is fairly uniform in color with darker brown barring on the wings and tail. They will vary slightly in color and pattern depending on region.

Range

House Wrens are widespread across North America and South America with South America being a year-round home for this species. In winter, House Wren’s reside in the Southern US and Mexico. They make their way north in spring, eventually ending up covering most of the Continental United States and parts of Southern Canada.

Diet and Foraging Habits

House Wrens are insectivorous, eating mostly insects and other invertebrates that move along the ground such as beetles and spiders. They have also been known to eat flying insects such as dragonflies and moths as well.

Where to Find This Bird

House Wrens can be found in many different habitats. Essentially, as long as there is some vegetation to hide in, House Wrens will probably be around. They are common in back yards where they can be heard making their chattering call.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren – Photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie
Identification

Marsh Wrens have a reddish brow back with dark barring on their wings and tail. They have white stripes on their upper back and a buffy to white colored eye stripe. Marsh Wrens have a light underside and often times have buffy sides.

Range

Marsh Wrens winter in Mexico and the Southern United States. In spring, they move north and spend the summer in the Northern United States and parts of Southern Canada. Interestingly, Marsh Wrens are year-round residents in some parts of the US including along the east and west coasts, as well as states such as Colorado and Utah among others.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Marsh Wrens consume Insects and and other invertebrates. They often feed close to the base of vegetation in swampy habitats.

Where to Find This Bird

As their name suggests, Marsh Wrens can be found in marshy habitats with lots of vegetation and standing water. They occupy both freshwater wetlands and coastal salt marshes.

Sedge Wren

Sedge Wren
Identification

Sedge Wrens are a sandy to brownish color with lighter coloration on their sides. Their back, wings, tail, and head are darker tan to brown with light head striping, and darker barring on the wings and tail. They have a white throat, a white underside, and a tan eyebrow stripe.

Range

Sedge Wrens winter in Northeastern Mexico and the Southeastern United States. In spring, they move north into many of the Midwestern states, Great Lakes area, and South-central Canada.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Sedge Wrens eat insects and other invertebrates that they pick from dense vegetation. They may also eat small amounts of seeds.

Where to Find This Bird

Sedge Wrens reside in thick vegetation such as grasses, and of course sedges. Look for damp fields with tall grass or other plants, and Sedge Wrens will most likely be around.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren – Photo by Alan Schmierer
Identification

Winter Wrens are reddish brown with a lighter shade of color on their throat and underside. They have barring and speckling on their sides, tail, back, and wings. This species has a lighter colored eye stripe and has a very short stiff looking tail.

Range

Winter Wrens spend the winter in the Southeastern United States with the exception of Southern Florida. In spring, they move north into many of the Great Lakes states and much of Southeastern Canada. Winter Wrens can also be found in parts of Western Canada in summer. There are also some areas in the Northeastern United States where this species can be found year round.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Winter Wrens eat Insects and other invertebrates. During the winter, they have also been known to eat berries. They typically forage along the ground, searching logs and vegetation for small creatures to eat.

Where to Find This Bird

Winter Wrens can be found in forested habitats as well as shrubby areas with thick underbrush. They seem to enjoy spending time in tangled branches, often making them difficult to get a clear look at. In lowland areas with dense understory, keep an eye out for this small, quick moving species.

Summary

Wrens are fun birds to find due to their energetic personalities and feisty attitudes. Knowing the species that are expected in your state can be instrumental in identifying which one you are looking at in the field. Hopefully, this article has helped in answering some questions about the Wrens of Minnesota.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

5 Reasons Winter is the best Season for Birding

Winter can sometimes feel like a desolate time for birding. Gone are most of the fall migrants and in comes the cold weather; but that doesn’t mean that the most frigid months of the year are all bad. In reality, winter is an amazing season for birding, and my personal favorite. Here are 5 reasons birding is actually the best season for birding.

Exciting New Migratory Birds

Evening Grosbeak

As sad as it is for spring and fall migration to be in the rear view mirror, a whole new set of birds are on the move in winter. In the continental United States, species like Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows are regular visitors along with predatory birds such as Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Shrikes, and Snowy Owls. Along with these typical migratory species, winter also brings irruptive species. These birds move in accordance with the supply of food available in the north. If food is scarce, they move south, sometimes in large numbers creating a spectacle for people lucky enough to encounter them in the field or see them at their bird feeders.Many of these birds are quite beautiful and unique such as Evening Grosbeaks and whitewinged crossbills just to name a few. These irruptions can be quite fun and exciting to experience and definitely set the winter apart from other seasons.

Birds Are More Congregated

Numerous gulls loafing on a frozen lake

Unlike other times of the year when insects, seeds, and fruits are readily available, during winter, the pickings are much more slim. When a layer of snow and ice covers the ground, food ends up being much more limited and in fewer places. The result of this change is that birds have to flock to the remaining sources of food that haven’t been covered, making them show up in larger quantities where there are resources. In particular, bird feeders end up being amazing places to not only see high quantities of birds but also a wide variety of species (some of which may be regional rarities). Other places to keep an eye out for birds are roadsides, berry trees, and open water. In general, in winter, it’s not necessary to cover hundreds of miles to find birds, but rather hit the hotspots where they gather together during this time of the year.

Visibility is the best

American Kestral

One thing that can make birding in spring and summer difficult is the amount of leaves on the trees and bushes. All of this greenery can conceal birds and make them almost impossible to get a look at. While this isn’t universally true, in most parts of North America, the trees lose most of their leaves during the winter, making visibility significantly better than in other seasons. Birds that would often be hidden from view become visible and often even give unobstructed views, making actually seeing birds and photographing them a top notch experience in winter compared to other seasons. Sure some places like conifer forests will remain unchanged, but if you ever wanted to get a clear photo of that cardinal that’s been lurking around your yard, now might be the time.

Easier to focus

Snowy Owl

Spring can be overwhelming with how many different birds are moving through. Sometimes there are days when rarities are reported in many different directions, during work hours, or at other inconvenient times and it can feel next to impossible to see everything. Fortunately, this isn’t nearly as much of a problem in winter. Migration is slowed down during this time of the year and that makes it much easier to focus on any rare birds that make their way into the area. Additionally, there are many rare but regular visitors that show up in the winter time. These species provide fun opportunities to plan out trips without having to rush to see them. In all, the winter feels like it moves at a slower pace for birding than other seasons, and that can be a good thing.

No biting insects

American Three-toed Woodpecker
American Three-toed Woodpecker

Personally, one of my least favorite things about birding during late spring and summer are the biting insects. Both mosquitos and ticks can make any experience outside an unpleasant one.  Fortunately, at least in the northern parts of the country and in places where temperatures get below freezing, this is no longer a concern by the time winter rolls around. Being able to go out without having to slap away mosquitos buzzing in your ear is a great feeling, and I for one would take the cold any day over the bugs.

While winter can sometimes be a drag and the cold can be unpleasant, it can still be an incredible time for birding and in my opinion, the best time. In spite of the difficult weather, it’s the season I look forward to most every year. What’s your favorite season to go birding? Let us know in the comments below, and as always, thanks for watching, we’ll see you next time on Badgerland Birding.

Gulls of Minnesota (14 Species to Know)

Gulls are a type of bird that prove to be controversial in the birding community. Some people despise them for how difficult they can be to identify, while others love them for the same reason.

Minnesota is home to a wide variety of gull species. With Lake Superior to the Northeast as well as the Mississippi River serving as the states Eastern border, many gulls are drawn to the shores of the land of 10,000 lakes. Here are all of the expected gulls that can be found in Minnesota along with some that are rare visitors. This article also includes identification tips and information on where to find them.

Herring Gull

Herring Gull
Identification

Herring Gulls are large birds with a white body and head, gray wings, black wing tips, a thick yellow bill, and pink legs. Adult Herring Gulls have a yellow eye while juveniles have a dark colored eye as well as a dark colored bill. Sometimes, sub-adult Herring Gulls will have a mostly yellow bill with black near the tip, making them similar in coloration to a Ring-billed Gull. Juvenile Herring Gulls are darker in color ranging from dark tan, to brown, to gray depending on their cycle.

Range

Herring Gulls are extremely wide spread across the United States. They winter in the Southeastern United States, along the Mississippi River, the Gulf Coast, the East Coast, and the West Coast along the oceans. They can be found year round along the Great Lakes, the Northeastern U.S. and Southeastern Alaska. During spring they migrate through the Great Plains and Western States to get to their breeding grounds in Canada and Central Alaska.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Herring Gulls feed on many different types of food and have a reputation of eating almost anything including trash, carrion, eggs, and even smaller birds. The majority of their diet however consists of aquatic creatures including fish, mussels, and other invertebrates. Herring Gulls are extremely opportunistic and as a result have an extremely varied diet and are therefore able thrive in wide variety of habitats.

Where to Find this Bird

Herring Gulls are one of the most abundant gull species in the state, especially in winter. Traveling to the Lake Superior coastline in winter will all but guarantee a sighting of this particular species. In fact, a trip to Lake Superior at any time of year will most likely yield numerous encounters with Herring Gulls. For a more eclectic birding experience, searching out a landfill is also an easy way to find this species.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull
Identification

Ring-billed Gulls can be identified by their white head and body, gray wings, black wing tips, yellow legs, and yellow bill with a black “ring” around it. Nonbreeding adults look mostly the same as breeding adults but with tan streaking on the head and neck.

Juvenile Ring-billed Gulls are white as a base color with brown and tan mottling. Their bills are pinkish as opposed to yellow and instead of a ring, they have a dark tip of the bill, making them bi-colored.

Range

Ring-billed Gulls are extremely widespread across the United States. They winter in the southern half of the country and migrate north to the Northern half of the country and into Canada, the Great Lakes states, and the Western States to breed. Some Ring-billed Gulls stick around the whole year near the Great Lakes.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Ring-billed Gulls are not picky about what they eat and will feed on fish, insects, worms, trash, and food given to them by people. Like other gulls they often forage near the water but this species also forages in open fields nowhere near water.

Where to Find this Bird

Ring-billed Gulls are extremely common and easy to find provided it is the right time of the year. In southern states, the winter will be the best time to see this species, and in northern states the summer will be the best. Around the Great Lakes, this species is typically found year round on the coasts. During summer, look for Ring-billed Gulls in parking lots and soaring overhead surveying for easy to forage food.

Bonaparte’s Gull

Nonbreeding plumage Bonaparte’s Gull (Alan Schmierer Photo)
Breeding plumage Bonaparte’s Gull (Rita Wiskowski Photo)
Identification

The Bonaparte’s Gull is a small gull species with a very thin, petit bill. They have a white body, gray wings, black wing tips, and reddish pink legs. In breeding plumage, Bonaparte’s Gulls have a black head with white eye crescents, while in nonbreeding plumage they have a white head with a black spot behind their eyes and light pink legs.

Range

Bonaparte’s Gulls winter in much of the southern United States in addition to the Bahamas, Cuba, and Northeastern Mexico. They also winter along the Northwestern coast of Mexico all the way up to the coast of Washington in the West and all the way up to Maine in the East. In spring, this species makes its way North over the United States and ends up in Canada and Alaska where they nest.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Bonaparte’s Gulls eat a variety of different food items with most of their diet being found in or around water. Some of the things they eat include small fish and medium sized insects in addition to surprisingly small creatures such as zooplankton and tiny invertebrates. These sleek gulls often forage in flocks and dip their bills in the water to catch prey on the fly. They will also forage in both dry and flooded fields and pick through the shallow water or sub-straight.

Where to Find this Bird

Bonaparte’s Gulls move through the state starting in the second to last week in March when they start showing up in the lower part of Minnesota. Bonaparte’s Gull numbers peak in mid April where they can be found in flooded fields and lake shores where they often congregate in large groups. In flight, Bonaparte’s gulls are sleek and acrobatic, looking tern-like as they maneuver through the air.

Glaucous Gull

Alan Schmierer Photo
Susan Young Photo
Identification

Glaucous Gulls are unique because they are one of the few gulls species that does not have black wing tips but rather white. They are the second largest gull species in the world and in some categories may outclass the larger Great Black-backed Gull such as weight. Adult breeding plumage Glaucous Gulls are very clean looking birds with a white head, white underside, gray wings, a yellow bill, and pink legs.

In nonbreeding plumage Glaucous Gulls look very similar to breeding plumage birds but have brownish streaking on their neck and head.

Juvenile Glaucous Gulls are even paler than the adults with a creamy white color covering their bodies with light brown patterning. Second winter Gloucaous Gulls can show as almost entirely white with very little brown mottling. Sub adult birds will have a pink colored bill with darker brown or black on the tip of it, making it bi-colored.

Range

Glaucous Gulls are very at home in the Arctic, with the most sightings of them taking place in Greenland, Iceland, Northern Europe, Northern Canada, and Alaska. In winter they travel south spending time in the Northeastern United States, the Northern Pacific Coast, and the Great Lakes. They can also be found inland from large bodies of water from time to time.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Glaucous Gulls are extremely opportunistic feeders. With their large size, they can eat a wide variety of food including fish, aquatic invertebrates, eggs, other birds, carrion, and trash. In the northern part of their range Glaucous Gulls have been known to feed on the remains of polar bear kills a are also recorded as eating the chicks (and also adults) of many different sea dwelling bird species.

Where to Find this Bird

Glaucous Gulls are at home near large bodies of water such as ocean coastlines and the Great Lakes. They can be found loafing on ice or beaches with other species in the winter months (which are the best times to see these large arctic gulls). The coasts aren’t the only places to see Glaucous Gulls however as they can also be seen in inland lakes and landfills.

Great Black-backed Gull (Uncommon)

Great Black-backed Gull
Identification

The Great Black-backed Gull is the largest gull species in the world and even when compared with other large species such as Glaucous and Herring Gulls look noticeably larger. They have a white head, tail, and underside with a namesake black back as well as black wings and black primary feathers. Great Black-backed Gulls have a robust yellow bill and light pink legs.

Young Great Black-backed Gulls look similar to adults but with dark streaking on the head and underside as well as more of a checkered black and white pattern on the wings as opposed to the solid dark gray or black of an adult. Additionally, Great Black-backed Gulls have dark colored bills as opposed to the bright yellow of adults, but they do still have pink legs.

Range

Great Black-backed gulls are birds of the Atlantic Coasts. They can be found in many northwestern European countries as well as Iceland, Greenland, Eastern Canada, and the Eastern United States. In the U.S. Great Black-backed Gulls are seen most often in winter and typically move out of the continental U.S. during summer although there are some places along the Atlantic Coast where they are found year round.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Simply speaking, Great Black-backed Gulls will eat anything they can fit in their most including trash, crabs, fish, eggs, carrion, and other birds. They have been known to steal food from other species and eat the chicks of other sea dwelling birds.

Where to Find this Bird

Great Black-backed Gulls are most common in winter when they can be seen loafing on docks, beaches, and ice on the Great Lakes. They can also be seen frequently at landfills. In all of these places they stand out due to their impressive size.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Uncommon)

Lesser black-backed Gull (Ott Rebane Image)
Identification

Lesser Black-backed Gulls can be identified by their white head and body, dark gray to black wings, yellow bill, yellow legs, and dark primary feathers. They look similar in appearance to Great Black-backed Gulls but will be smaller overall and have yellow legs as opposed to the pink legs of the Great Black-backed Gull.

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls will be pale white or cream with black mottling on their body, head and neck. They have black bills when young and beginning of a dark back forming will typically be evident.

Range

The Range of the Lesser Black-backed Gull spans several continents including Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and South America. Most of the sightings of this species occur in Western Europe in addition to many sightings occurring in Northern Canada and the United States. In the U.S. Lesser Black-backed Gulls winter in the Eastern half of the country with the most individuals being found near the Atlantic Ocean, but many other sightings occurring inland as well as near the Great Lakes.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Lesser Black-backed Gulls eat almost anything ranging from fish, to crustaceans, to carrion, to plant matter. Like most other large North American Gull species, Lesser Black-backed Gulls take advantage of human habitation by eating scraps of food and garbage left by humans. They will forage in the water on the fly or walk along beaches, even flipping over rocks and sticks in hopes of finding a meal.

Where to Find this Bird

Lesser Black-backed Gulls are most commonly seen in winter, and are a fairly normal sight along the Atlantic Ocean all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to Maine. They can also be found near the Great Lakes in winter where they flock with other Northern Gull species such as Great Black-backed and Glaucous Gulls.

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull
Identification

Out of all The North American Gull species, Iceland Gulls are probably the most vexing when it comes to identification. This species consists of what was once two separate species; the Iceland Gull and the Thayer’s Gull. The “Iceland” type Iceland Gull is fairly easy to identify as they have gray wings and back, white head and underside, a yellow bill, and white wing tips. They are smaller and more dainty looking than Glaucous Gulls but clearly discernible from Herring Gulls due to the white primary feathers on the wings. The trouble comes mostly from the “Thayer’s” type Iceland Gulls which can be widely variable in appearance and be extremely close in appearance to Herring Gulls. Thayer’s Iceland Gulls are slightly smaller than Herring Gulls and have a thinner bill. The diagnostic white wing tips of other Iceland Gulls are not present in Thayer’s types but instead are replaced by dark wing tips with lighter undersides of the wing tips, a feature that can be very difficult to see. If unsure about the identification about a Thayer’s type Iceland Gulls, consulting an expert on the individual bird in question is the best choice.

Juvenile Iceland type Iceland Gulls have a white base color with dark mottling while juvenile Thayer’s type Iceland Gulls may be darker overall and will typically have dark wing tips.

Range

Iceland Gulls spend the summer in the Arctic Circle in Northern Canada, Iceland, and Greenland. In winter they move south into Northwestern Europe and the Northeastern United States. This species also shows up along the Great Lakes in winter.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Iceland Gulls eat mostly fish but will also eat other marine creatures such as crustaceans, carrion, zooplankton, and trash. Like other gull species, they are extremely opportunistic and will eat eggs and young of other birds as well as plant matter.

Where to Find this Bird

Iceland Gulls are most easy to find in winter in the United States where they live on ocean shores and large inland lakes. In the Midwest, look for these elegant looking gulls on the Great Lakes. Another less glamorous place to find them is landfills where they can be found in winter along with many other gull species.

Black-legged Kittiwake (Rare)

Black-legged Kittiwake (Nonbreeding) (Photo by Bill Grossmeyer)
Black-legged Kittiwake with Chicks (Robin Corcoran Photo)
Identification

Adult breeding plumage Black-legged Kittiwake’s have a white body and head with gray wings. They have black wing tips, a slightly curved yellow bill, and namesake black legs. Overall ,the Black-legged Kittiwake is a relatively small gull species.

In nonbreeding plumage adults look almost the same as those in breeding plumage but with black on the back of their head.

Immature Black-legged Kittiwake’s have the same white body and gray wings but have a few extra markings that adults don’t have. Juveniles will show a black spot on their head, a white stripe on their neck, and a black “M” marking on their wings that looks like a black stripe when their wings are folded. Juvenile Black-legged kittiwakes also differ from adults by having a black bill as opposed to yellow.

Range

Black-legged Kittiwakes are birds of ocean coastlines. They can be found along the ocean in Western Europe, Iceland, Greenland, the Eastern United States, Eastern Canada, the Pacific coast of the United States, Alaska, and the Eastern parts of Russia and Japan. Black-legged Kittiwakes are most commonly seen in the United States in winter but can be found in Alaska in summer, and also turn up as rarities in inland states.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Black-legged Kittiwake’s diet largely consists of small fish in addition to other small marine creatures like jellyfish, zooplankton, and squid. This species has been known to feed near whales and boats where they they can be seen looking for scraps left behind. It’s worth noting that Black-legged Kittiwakes are not known for visiting landfills like many other North American Gull species are.

Where to Find this Bird

Black-legged Kittiwakes are rare in most inland states in the U.S. They are easier to find along the oceans but juveniles will turn up from time to time in the Great Lakes and other bodies of water. Look for a bird that looks somewhat like a non-breeding Bonaparte’s Gull or Little Gull but with the extra black markings.

Laughing Gull (Rare)

Nonbreeding Laughing Gull (Alan Schmierer Photo)
Laughing Gull
Identification

Laughing Gulls are medium sized gulls with a whit underside, gray wings, dark wing tips and a relatively large, deep red, slightly curved bill. In adult breeding plumage this species has a black head with thin white eye crescents.

In nonbreeding plumage, Laughing Gulls look similar but have a darker bill, a white head, and only a small patch of black on their head.

This species can be difficult to distinguish from Franklin’s Gulls but can be done with a little knowledge about what ID features to look at. For more information on this, you can check out our post titled Franklin’s Gulls vs. Laughing Gull. You can also watch our video about the topic below.

Range

Laughing Gulls winter in Northern South America, Central America, Mexico, and some of the Southern states in the United States such as Florida. While many Laughing Gulls reside on the Southeastern Coasts of the United States year round in addition to Cuba and the Bahamas, others migrate north during breeding season ending up in the Northeastern United States and the Great Lakes.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Laughing Gulls diet’s consist of many different food items including invertebrates, fish, squid, small fruits, carrion, and scraps left by people. They can be seen congregating in places with many humans waiting for free handouts or discarded food.

Where to Find this Bird

Laughing Gulls are extremely common along the Atlantic Coast of the United States and can be seen in high numbers on public beaches, often associating with other species of gulls and terns. In the Midwest, this species shows up around the Great Lakes in late spring and while rare, can typically be picked out from groups of gulls.

Franklin’s Gull

Nonbreeding Franklin’s Gull (Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren Photo – CC by 2.0)
Breeding Franklin’s Gull
Identification

Breeding plumage Franklin’s Gulls have a white neck and underside, gray back and wings, a black hood, and deep red bill. Some of the extra identification features about them to note are the large white spots on their folded black primary feathers, their large white eye crescents, and sometimes a pink wash on their chest and underside (other gull species can show this pink wash as well).

Nonbreeding Franklin’s Gulls look ver similar to breeding plumage birds but instead of a completely dark hood they have a partial faded looking black hood that often still shows their white eye crescents.

Range

Franklin’s Gulls have an interesting range compared to most other North American Gull species. They spend the winter along the Western coast of South America and migrate north in spring. Franklin’s Gulls are not as common along the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts as they are in states such as Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota, but they can still be found along the coasts in migration. This species spends the summer in Southcentral Canada, Montana, and North Dakota.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

While Franklin’s Gulls eat mostly invertebrates such as insects. They will also consume worms, mollusks, small fish, and other small aquatic creatures. Franklin’s Gulls have some interesting foraging habits including twirling in the water to stir up food items, as well as following farming equipment to catch insects.

Where to Find this Bird

Franklin’s Gulls are an uncommon but expected migratory bird in most states with the peak time to view them typically being the later weeks of May or first weeks of June. They turn up in mixed flocks of gulls and terns in farm fields and lake shores. In the Great Lakes States the best places to find them are usually along the coasts.

Little Gull (Rare)

Little Gull (Photo by Ekaterina Chernetsova – CC by 2.0)
Nonbreeding Little Gull (Andrew Cannizzarro Photo – CC by 2.0)
Identification

The Little Gull is aptly named as it has the distinction of being the smallest gull species in the world. In breeding plumage, This species has a white underside, light gray wings, dark underwings, red legs, a black hood, and a tiny black bill.

In nonbreeding plumage Little Gulls look the same but without a full black hood and instead just a dark spot on the side of the head and black smudging on the top of the head.

Range

Little Gulls are actually more of a Eurasian species than they are a North American Species. Most of the population resides in Europe year round, moving to Northern Europe to breed. In the United States, there is a small breeding population occurs in Canada and around the Great Lakes. This species is rare in most parts of the United States.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Unlike larger gulls, Little Gulls are more limited by the type of food they can eat simply due to their size. Their diet consists mostly of small fish, insects, and other invertebrates that can be found near water. Little Gulls behave more like terns when foraging, often hovering above the water and swooping in to catch flying insects or to scoop fish from the surface.

Where to Find this Bird

Little Gulls can only be found in a few regions of the United States. They can sometimes be found wintering on the Atlantic Coast, especially in New England. In the Midwest they can be found sparingly on the Great Lakes.

Sabines Gull (Rare)

Sabine’s Gull (Peter Pearsall Image)
Identification

Sabine’s gulls are a very interesting looking gull species with a white body, gray wings, and a black head. The head is not quite the same as other dark-headed gulls however as it has a darker edge to it looking like it has a ring of black separating the head and neck. The bill of the Sabine’s gull is also unique as it is black with a yellow tip. In flight, Sabine’s gulls show black primaries and white secondaries, making it look like they have two white triangles on their wings along with one large gray triangle.

Juvenile Sabine’s gulls do not have a black heads but rather smudges of grayish brown on their head, neck, and back. In flight, Juvenile Sabine’s gulls show a similar pattern to those of the adults but with the more muted brown tones instead of the gray back of the adults. Additionally, juvenile Sabine’s gulls will show a black stripe on their tail while in flight.

Range

Sabine’s Gulls spend most of their time In the arctic, breeding in Northern Canada and Alaska. During migration, this species moves along the Pacific Coast of the United States. It’s worth noting that Sabine’s gulls are also found in Western Europe. For most people in the continental U. S., the best time to see this species is during fall migration.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Sabine’s gulls eat insects, small fish, crustaceans, and other aquatic invertebrates. They feed in a variety of places including tide pools, around fishing boats, and in snow drifts. They also feed in a variety of different ways from catching prey mid air, to foraging along the shore and picking through debris to find insects.

Where to Find this Bird

Sabine’s Gulls are rare in the Midwest and can typically only be seen during fall migration. In Minnesota, the best place to see these birds is Lake Superior near Duluth in September during the event called “Jaeger Fest” when bad weather pushes them close enough to the shore to be viewable.

Slaty-backed Gull (Rare)

Slaty-backed Gull
Identification

Slaty-backed Gulls have a white underside and head, namesake slate colored back, pink legs, and a yellow bill. Nonbreeding adults have dark streaking on their neck and head. The key identification feature of this species is the white markings on the wing tips leading to what many call the “string of pearls” look on the wings in flight.

Range

Slaty-backed Gulls are most common in Japan, South Korea, Eastern Russia, and Alaska.. With the exception of Alaska, they are rare in the rest of the United States, but they do show up on the Pacific Coast, the East Coast, and the Great Lakes more often than in other parts of the country.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Slaty-backed Gulls are large bodied, oceanic predators that feed on many different food items including fish, crustaceans, carrion, trash, and really anything they can fit in their mouth. This species will eat eggs and nestlings of other bird species in addition to eating smaller seagoing bird species.

Where to Find this Bird

Slaty-backed Gulls are quite rare in the continental United States but do show up from time to time. Look for this species along the Great Lakes where they can sometimes be found in groups with other gulls and in landfills, Note that this is a species that seems to be more common around the Great Lakes than it used to be, but be aware that they can sometimes get confused with “Great Lakes Gulls” which are hybrids between Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls.

California Gull (Rare)

California Gull (Alan Schmierer Photo)
Identification

California Gulls look very similar to Herring Gulls with a white body and head, gray wings and back, black wing tips with white spots when folded, and a yellow bill. One big difference between Herrings Gulls and California Gulls is that California Gulls have yellow legs while Herring Gulls have pinkish legs.

Nonbreeding adults look virtually the same but with more streaking on the necked head.

Range

California Gulls winter along the Pacific coast from southern Mexico to Washington state. In summer, California Gulls breed in Southwestern Canada and some of the states in the northwestern U.S. including Montana, North Dakota, Colorado, and northern California. They live year round in states like Idaho and Washington. California Gulls are migratory and will occasionally show up in states in the Midwest and Northeast. However, they are considered rare in most places east of the North and South Dakota.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

California Gulls are omnivorous and eat pretty much anything ranging from fish, to insects, to fruit, to garbage. They forage on land, in the water, and in flight.

Where to Find this Bird

California Gulls can easily be found along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington where they are quite common. They can also be seen inland during the spring and summer. Look for California Gulls around lakes and rivers along with more urban environments. Another place California Gulls can be found is at garbage dumps.

California Gulls are rare in Minnesota but their range just barely gets into the most Western parts of the state. They often associate with other gull species and can be hard to identify, especially if their feet aren’t visible.

Summary

Gulls can be both frustrating and exciting species to find and identify. Minnesota has a fairly wide variety of gulls to find, and we hope that this article helped shed some light on how to find and ID them.

If you enjoyed this post please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

Pelicans of Wisconsin (1 Species to Know)

Pelicans are very unique birds that are typically found around the water. They are of cultural significance in many parts of the United States and are even represented in professional sports with the NBA’s New Orleans pelicans.

In the United States there are two different species of pelicans, but in Wisconsin, only one species can be found on an annual basis. Here is everything you need to know about that species.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican
Identification

American White Pelicans are large birds with long bills ranging from pink, to yellow, to orange in color. They have a white body with black wing tips and are most well-known for their throat pouch used to catch and hold fish. American White Pelicans often fly together in large groups and create v-shaped formations similar to Canada Geese.

Range

American White Pelicans winter along the southern ocean coasts of the United States as well as most of Mexico. In Spring they move north into the Central and Western United States as well as some parts of Southern Canada.

Diet and Foraging Habits

American White Pelicans primarily feed on fish. However, they are incredibly opportunistic and are known to try and eat almost anything that will fit in their mouth including invertebrates, amphibians, and even medium sized birds and mammals.

Where to Find This Bird

American White Pelicans can be found in shallow waters such as ponds and marshes where they breed during the summer months. This species can often be seen foraging and traveling in large groups meaning that if they are around they are quite noticeable.

In Wisconsin, there are many different places to find American White Pelicans including Horicon Marsh, along the Mississippi River, and the Green Bay area. In fact, some American White Pelicans typically stay in Green Bay year round.

Summary

Pelicans are fascinating and unique birds that aren’t quite like other species. Knowing the habits, range, and key identification features of each of these species can be incredibly useful in knowing what to look for in the field.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

Irruptive Bird Species of Wisconsin (11 Species to Know)

While many different bird species are migratory, some species do it a little differently. An irruption is an influx of a certain species into an area (typically the lower 48 states) usually caused by a lack or an abundance of food in a certain region. In Wisconsin, there are 11 species that are typically regarded as “irruptive” species. The movements of these birds are tracked and predicted by specialists who look at conifer cone crops, and forecast the movements of these birds. Here are the 11 irruptive species that make it into Wisconsin.

Finches

Out of the 11 irruptive species in the Eastern United States, many of them are finches. Finches usually travel in flocks, and in an irruption year can arrive in new locations in large numbers.

Common Redpoll

Male Common Redpoll
Identification

The Common Redpoll is a compact finch species with a small, stubby, pointed yellow bill. They have a brown back streaked with cream coloration, black above and below their bill, and a red patch on their head. Males have a rosy wash on their chest and flanks along with some streaking on their sides. Females and immature birds do not have noticeable red wash but do have dark streaking on their underside and flanks.

Range

Common Redpolls breed in the extreme north of Canada and Alaska as well as Southern Greenland. In winter, they migrate south into Southern Canada and the Northern United States. This species is irruptive and on years when food is scarce in the North, they expand farther into the United States and in greater numbers. The amount of Redpolls in the United States as well as the locations they spread to vary depending on the year.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Common Redpolls eat small seeds from trees such as birches, alders, and conifers. They will also eat berries and seeds from wildflowers. Common Redpolls are very acrobatic feeders, often foraging in large groups and hanging upside down as they pry seeds out of cones.

Where to Find This Bird

Common Redpolls follow the food and will show up wherever there are plentiful seeds to eat. When they are around, their buzzy calls can be heard in flight, and keeping an eye out for flocks of them in and around conifer trees will typically yield results. During irruption years, swarms of these birds will descend on bird feeders creating quite the spectacle. Thistle, nyjer, and sunflower seeds are all common bird feeder fill that will attract Common Redpolls.

Common Redpolls during an irruption year

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak
Identification

Evening Grosbeaks are an extremely bright looking species. Males have electric yellow undersides, backs, and markings on their head just above the eye. They have black wings, a black tail, clean white wing patches, and an extremely thick bill. Females and immature birds are mostly gray with a yellow nape, black wings, and a black tail with white patches on them.

Range

The Evening Grosbeak’s range is somewhat misleading. They are year round residents of Southern Canada and some parts of the Western United States. Most maps show their wintering range covering most of Michigan, Wisconsin, and New England, but in my experience, most winters Evening Grosbeaks only inhabit the most northern parts of these areas. Evening Grosbeaks do have years in which they fly farther South during winter, but in recent years they have not irrupted in the same way that records from the past show. Additionally, the range of this species seems to be receding farther north into Canada each year.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Evening Grosbeaks have different diets depending on the time of year. During summer, they feed primarily on insects and other invertebrates, most notably spruce budworm larva. Other times of the year, Evening Grosbeaks eat various types of seeds including seeds of fruits.

Where to Find This Bird

Evening Grosbeaks can be found in conifer forests. They also can be found near bird feeders in their native range.

In Wisconsin, one of the most reliable places to find Evening Grosbeaks are the bird feeders in the small northern town of Alvin. They can also be found in other small towns and homes in the Northern part of the state.

Badgerland Birding searches for an Evening Grosbeak in Milwaukee, WI

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll – Photo by Ryan Brady
Identification

The Hoary Redpoll is a small frosty looking finch species with a brownish gray back, a tiny yellow bill, a white underside with very faint streaking, and a a bright red patch of color on their head. Males have a faint red wash on their chest. This species is quite similar looking to the Common Redpoll and is expected to be lumped together with them in the near future.

If you’d like to know more about telling the Hoary and the Common Redpoll apart, click here to read about their difference or watch the video below.

In depth comparison of Common Redpoll and Hoary Redpoll
Range

Hoary Redpolls live extremely far north in North America, Europe and Eastern Asia. They breed in the Arctic Tundra of Greenland, Russia, and Northern Canada. They do move south in the winter but don’t move too far into the United States most years with the exception of irruption years. Some of the Great Lakes states get these birds annually.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Hoary Redpolls feed on small seeds from trees, grasses, and weeds. They also consume insects and buds. Like the Common Redpoll, Hoary Redpolls are very acrobatic while foraging, often hanging upside-down and voraciously picking seeds out of cones .

Where to Find This Bird

Hoary Redpolls can be found in tundra habitat in their breeding range. In their nonbreeding range, look for this specie mixed in with flocks of Common Redpolls in areas with plentiful food such as fields, conifer forests, and even backyard bird feeders.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak
Identification

Male Pine Grosbeaks are a rosy reddish pink color with dark gray wings, two white wing bars, and a gray under tail. Females and immature males are mostly gray with yellow to orange coloration on the head, back, rump, and sometimes the chest. It’s worth noting that Pine Grosbeak coloration varies slightly based on region.

Range

Pine Grosbeaks live year round in the northern parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. In North America, this species breeds in the forests of Canada along with some parts of the continental United States and Alaska. In winter, Pine Grosbeaks move south into states in the Midwest and Northeast.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Pine Grosbeaks primarily feed on fruits and seeds, but will also eat insects and other invertebrates when available.

Where to Find This Bird

To find Pine Grosbeaks, one must go to where their food source is. They show up at bird feeders as well as places with fruit trees. In winter, remaining crabapples and other ornamental trees are big draws for this species. Some places that often plant these types of trees are cemeteries and school campuses.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin
Identification

Pine Siskins are an overall brownish tan color with cream colored wing bars and a lighter colored underside. They have heavy streaking on the chest and sides as well as a lighter colored eye brow stripe. The brightest color on a Pine Siskin is the yellow edging on their wing and tail feathers.

Range

Pine Siskins have an extremely expansive range across the US and Canada. They live year round in Southern Canada, the Northern United States, and parts of the Western United States and Mexico. in summer, the breeding range of Pine Siskins extends up into Canada and Southwestern Alaska. In winter, Pine Siskins southern movements vary wildly from year to year with the species making it well into Mexico and the Southeastern US.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Pine Siskins eat a wide variety of food items including insects, buds, and seeds. The majority of their diet during the colder months is seeds ranging from deciduous to coniferous. As their name would suggest, they are particularly fond of the seeds of pine trees. Pine Siskins are often found feeding in flocks flying from tree to tree and making their distinctive, buzzy call.

Where to Find This Bird

Pine Siskins live in a variety of habitats including deciduous and coniferous woods, parks, and backyards. If it’s the right time of year for them, exploring pine and other conifer forests will often times lead to an encounter. Another great place to find these lively birds is at home bird feeders where they will eat alongside other finch species such as American Goldfinches.

Finding Pine Siskins during an irruption year

Purple Finch

Purple Finch – Photo by Bill Grossmeyer
Identification

Male Purple Finches are stunning birds with a rosy pink wine-stained color on their back, head, and chest. They have dark brown wings and a brown colored tail. Male Purple Finches also have lighter and darker variations of pink on their face giving them the look of having an eye stripe. Females completely lack the rosy pink color of the males and have brown wings with cream colored undersides and a noticeable cream colored eye brow stripe. They also have streaking on their chest and sides.

Sometime Purple Finches can be hard to tell apart from House Finches. To find out how to differentiate between the two, click here to read our article about it or check out the video below.

Learn to differentiate House Finches from Purple Finches
Range

Purple Finches live year round in the Northeastern, Northern Great Lakes, and West Coast of the United States as well as Southeastern Canada. They’re summer range expands farther north into Canada and move south in the winter (mostly in the Eastern United States).

Diet and Foraging Habits

Purple Finches eat many different types of seeds and berries. They will also eat soft buds from plants and feed on nectar from flowers.

Where to Find This Bird

Purple Finches can be found in forested areas with conifer forests seeming to be the preferred habitat. In winter, look for these birds near feeding stations where the males will stand out.

Badgerland Birding searches for Purple Finches

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill
Identification

Male Red Crossbills are orangish red with brownish black wings and a brownish black tail. They have a marking that goes over their eye and is not terribly noticable unless seen at close range. Females are yellowish in color with brownish gray wings. Red Crossbills get their name for there interesting bill structure. The mandibles are crossed, making it easy for this species to open up pine cones to extract seeds.

Range

The range of Red Crossbills is complicated. They are extremely nomadic and will simply travel to where the food is. In general, this species is a year round resident of Western and Southern Canada, the Western and Northern forests of the United States, and parts of Mexico. During winter, they move into the the rest of the United States in search of fruitful cone crops. In any given year they may stay relatively far north or make it as far south as Texas and Mexico.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Red Crossbills are specialized to feed on conifer cones and do so by placing their crossed mandibles in-between scales of the cones. They then open up the cone and eat the seed out of it. These birds typically feed in flocks and will descend on a tree together, feasting in what looks and sounds like a frenzy.

Where to Find This Bird

Red Crossbills can certainly be a tough species to get a read on. The best time to find them is during an irruption year when many of them flood into the continental US. During these times, keep an eye out for conifer trees with healthy cone crops. Another good way to find this species is by listening for their “jip jip” flight call.

It’s worth noting that Red Crossbills have several different “types.” Each of these types has a slightly different call and habitat preference. It’s possible that at some point these birds could be split into multiple species

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill
Identification

Male White-winged Crossbills are bright red with black wings, white markings on the wings, a black tail, a light colored under tail, and dark markings on their cheeks. Females are yellowish with darker wings, streaking on the underside, and dark cheek marks. Both males and females have the same crossed mandibles, differentiating them from most other finch species.

Range

White-winged Crossbills are year round residents in Canada, parts of Alaska, and parts of the Western and Midwestern United States. In winter, they move south into the continental United States. How far south they go depends on how much food is available in their typical range.

Diet and Foraging Habits

White-winged Crossbills feed on the seeds of conifer trees, particularly those of tamaracks and spruces. They will also eat spiders, insects, and buds. White-winged Crossbills usually feed in flocks, arriving at conifer trees and quickly getting to work pulling out seeds with their specialized mandibles.

Where to Find This Bird

White-winged Crossbills can be found in stands of conifers with good cone crops. They will move around frequently, often chattering as they fly in a group. For people in the continental United States, fall and winter are the best times to see White-winged Crossbills.

Badgerland Birding searches for White-winged Crossbills

Other Irruptive Species

While finches are some of the more hyped up irruptive species, other birds also fall into the “irruptive” category and can also be tracked and predicted.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay
Identification

The Blue Jay is a medium sized bird with a blue back and light gray to white underside. They have intricate black and white markings on their wings, a barred tail, and a black collar going from the back of the neck around to the front of the chest. Blue Jays have a crest, giving them a distinctive look.

Range

Blue Jays live year round in the Eastern United States and Southeastern Canada. They also inhabit parts of Western Canada. In winter, Blue Jays move south and west with a higher concentration of Blue Jays in the Continental United States and some making it as far west as Washington and Oregon.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Blue Jays primarily eat insects and nuts, but will also eat other birds and small animals. In all, this species is very opportunistic and will take advantage of a wide array of food items.

Where to Find This Bird

Blue Jays live in many different habitats including forests and backyards. They are especially found of oak forests as acorns are a staple food item for the species. One of the best ways to see a Blue Jay is to put large nuts such as peanuts out in your yard. Then wait to hear the distinctive calls of Blue Jays that will appear to grab a nut and then quickly fly off.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing
Identification

Bohemian Waxwings have dark gray wings, a light gray underside, a peach colored face, and a black mask over their eyes. This species has black wing tips with yellow edges on them and a black tail with a yellow tip. Unlike Cedar Waxwings, Bohemian Waxwings have an auburn colored under tail.

Range

Bohemian Waxwings summer in Alaska and Northwestern Canada. In winter, they move south and east into the Northern United States. Bohemian Waxwings get their name from the fact that they are very nomadic and move to where the food is. This makes their movements somewhat unpredictable.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Bohemian Waxwings are primarily fruit eaters. In fact, during nonbreeding season, they eat almost entirely fruit. In breeding season they eat insects as well.

Where to Find This Bird

For people who do not live in Canada and Alaska, the best time to find Bohemian Waxwings is in winter when they move south in search of food. Look for this species in places with fruit trees. Some notable places are cemeteries, neighborhoods, and college campuses. In their breeding range, Bohemian Waxwings can be found in conifer forests.

In Wisconsin, small cities in the Northern part of the state are the best places to look for Bohemian Waxwings. Rhinelander is often times a hotspot for the species.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Identification

Red-breasted Nuthatches are personable and energetic birds with blueish gray backs, rusty orange undersides, and white heads with black stripes. Males have slightly more striking colors than females but both have the same general patterns and colors.

Range

Red-breasted Nuthatches live year round in the northern forests of North America including the Southwestern portion of Alaska, much of Canada, and parts of the Northern, Eastern, and Western United States. As early as July, Red-breasted Nuthatches start making their way south for the winter. They can end up as far south as Texas and Louisiana depending on the year.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Red-breasted Nuthatches eat insects and other invertebrates like spiders when they are available. In times of the year when insects are not around, these birds eat conifer seeds. They will also visit bird feeders and take seeds to either eat in a nearby tree or save for later.

Where to Find This Bird

Red-breasted Nuthatches are birds of conifer forests and can usually be found in locations with healthy cone crops. They will also visit bird feeders where they show up momentarily and are gone just as fast as they came in.

Badgerland Birding searches for Red-breasted Nuthatches

Summary

Irruptive bird species can certainly add some excitement to the colder months of the year. Knowing the habits, range, and key identification features of each of these species can be incredibly useful in knowing what to look for in the field.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

Cormorants of Wisconsin (2 Species to Know)

Cormorants are slender diving waterbirds with a distinctive shape and set of habits. While there are many cormorant species that live in North America, there are only two that can typically be found in Wisconsin, with one being extremely abundant and the other being quite rare. Here is everything you need to know about these two species.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant
Identification

Adult Double-crested Cormorants have a dark brown to black head, neck, back, underside and wings. Juveniles will be lighter brown in color with a lighter throat and underside. Both adults and juveniles have orange by the eyes and base of the bill as well as a turquoise colored eye. Breeding adult birds have two tufts on their head that can sometimes be hard to see, but these crests are what this species is named for.

Range

Double-crested Cormorants live year round along the Pacific Coast of North America from Northwestern Mexico all the way up to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. They also live year round in parts of Florida. This species winters in in the Southeastern United States and Northeastern Mexico. In spring, they move into the Northern United States and Southern Canada where they can be seen migrating in large flocks.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Double-crested Cormorants primarily eat fish which they catch by hunting them underwater. They will also eat other aquatic creature such as crustaceans and amphibians.

Where to Find This Bird

Double-crested Cormorants can be found in a variety of places with all of them usually being near bodies of water. Look for this species in trees lining lakes and ponds as well as in marshes. Often times, Double-crested Cormorants will congregate in large groups on islands or other places with adequate perches as they dry their wings and survey for prey.

Neotropic Cormorant (Rare)

Neotropic Cormorant – Photo by Alan Schmierer
Identification

Neotropic Cormorants are small members of the cormorant family. Adult birds are a shiny black color with white feathers on their head, back, and wings. They have a white triangle on the base of the bill known as a gular. Neotropic Cormorants have yellowish orange on the base of the bill and a turquoise colored eye. Juveniles are lighter in color overall, sporting brown coloration instead of black.

Range

Neotropic Cormorants live year-round in South America, Central America, much of Mexico, and the Gulf Coast of the United States. While much of the population is not migratory, some birds move north in spring and have a habit of turning up north of their normal range.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Neotropic Cormorants eat mostly fish, but will also consume insects, crustaceans, and amphibians. These birds are sight feeders and search for prey underwater where their streamlined bodies make them adept swimmers.

Where to Find This Bird

Neotropic Cormorants live in a wide variety of places including inland lakes, saltmarshes, and along ocean coastlines. They can often be seen perched in branches and other structures near water keeping watch for food.

In Wisconsin, Neotropic Cormorants are very rare visitors and only show up sporadically. They can sometimes be found in marshes, near ponds, or along the shores of the Great Lakes. Keep an eye on large flocks of Double-crested Cormorants for a smaller looking cormorant.

For information on how to differentiate a Double-crested Cormorant from a Neotropic Cormorant click here to read an article on the subject, or check out the video below.

Neotropic Cormorant vs. Double-crested Cormorant

Summary

Cormorants are unique, lanky birds that are a common sight near the water. Knowing the habits, range, and key identification features of each of these species can be incredibly useful in knowing what to look for in the field.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

Jays of Wisconsin (2 Species to Know)

Jays are intelligent and charismatic birds that are beloved by many birders and feeder watchers. There are two types of jays that can be found in Wisconsin with one being abundant, and the other being quite rare. Here is everything you need to know about these two species.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay
Identification

Blue Jays are an extremely distinctive species with sky blue on the head, back, wings, and tail. They have a light gray underside and a gray to white face. Blue Jays also have black markings on their wings and tail, as well as a black marking going from the back of the neck to the front of the chest. Blue Jays have a crest on their head that sometimes sticks up quite noticeably, and other times lays down flat. Something interesting about this species is that their markings differ slightly from individual to individual, meaning that each bird is subtly unique looking.

Range

Blue Jays live year round in the Eastern United States and Southeastern Canada. They also inhabit parts of Western Canada. In winter, Blue Jays move south and west with a higher concentration of Blue Jays in the continental United States than in the other seasons and some making it as far west as Washington and Oregon.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Blue Jays primarily eat insects and nuts, but will also eat eggs and nestlings of other birds in addition to small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

Where to Find This Bird

Blue Jays live in a wide variety of habitats including forests and backyards. They are especially fond of oak forests as acorns are a staple food item for the species. One of the best ways to see a Blue Jay is to put large nuts such as peanuts out in your yard. Then wait to hear the distinctive calls of Blue Jays that will appear to grab a nut and then quickly fly off.

Canada Jay

Canada Jay
Identification

Canada jays (formerly known as Gray Jays) are fairly large birds with a dark gray back, wings, tail, and back of the head. They have a light gray underside and white on their face, forehead, and neck. Juvenile Canada jays are dark gray overall and look significantly different than adults.

Range

Canada Jays are birds of North Americas boreal forests, living in much of Central Canada, the Western Mountains of the United States, and some of the states bordering Canada in the Midwest and Northeast. This species is nonmigratory.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Canada Jays are ultimate omnivores, eating berries, carrion, insects, and even some types of fungi. They are known to take leftover food from humans, earning them the nickname camp robber. They also have been documented eating food soaked in alcohol and consequentially becoming intoxicated, earning them another nickname: Whiskey Jack.

Where to Find This Bird

Canada jays are at home in boreal forests as well as subalpine forests. Depending on the time of the year they can be reclusive while other times they seek out humans in hopes of getting a free meal.

In Wisconsin, Canada Jays reside in the Northern forest of the state yet due to low numbers coupled with the vast expanse of boreal forest in the region, they can be extremely difficult to find. The best way to encounter a Canada Jay is to drive the forest roads and hope to catch a glimpse of one.

Summary

Jays are unique birds that can be very fun to see in the wild as their cunning personalities can lead to some entertaining experiences. Knowing the habits, range, and key identification features of each of these species can be incredibly useful in knowing what to look for in the field.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.