Category Archives: Editorials

5 Ways to Get Better at Birding

Birding is like anything else in life, the more you do it, the better at it you get. While practice and time in the field will certainly help, there some specific things that you can focus on that will improve your skills quickly and efficiently. If you want to know what to work on and how become the best birder you can be, this is the video for you  Here are five things you can do to make yourself a better birder.

Get Used to Range Maps

Black Vulture Range Map created by

One of the first things to do to improve your birding abilities is to understand which birds are most likely to be in the area you’re searching in. Having a good baseline knowledge of what species will be expected to be around while you’re birding can make it easier to identify birds since you will know what the most probably species are. 

For example, if you were to see a shrike in Canada during the winter, the assumption would be that it would be a Northern Shrike since the Loggerhead Shrikes winter range doesn’t typically extend that far into the north. Another example would be a meadowlark seen in Virginia, based on range maps, it’s fairy safe to assume it would be an Eastern Meadowlark since the very similar looking Western Meadowlark isn’t normally found that dar east.

While birds do show up outside of their normal range, and therefore range alone shouldn’t be used to identify birds, it can go a long way in getting you on the right track to a postive identification.

Upgrade Equipment

Video about the benefits of birding with the Panasonic Lumix FZ 80

It’s totally possible to go birding without any equipment at all or go with a simple pair of cheap binoculars. However, some more advanced gear can make things a lot easier. Getting a better pair of binoculars can be a big advantage because of increased zoom potential and clarity. Other items can also be a major boost to your birding efforts such as spotting scopes that will allow you to get an up close look at distant birds, especially when there are big groups of them together and you want to pick through each individual. Also extremely helpful to have is a camera. It doesn’t need to have a massive lens, but something that at least allows for doc shots to be taken to reveiw birds you couldn’t identify in the field or prove to others that the rare bird you found was correctly identified. In all, getting even just slightly better optics and camera equipment can go a long way in helping you hone your birding skills.

Consider the Habitat

Marsh Wren

Habitat plays an extremely imprtant role in determining which species will be in a certain area. Knowing the preferred plants or terrain of a particular bird can make finding it much easier. Furthermore, having a good understanding of the habitat birds prefer during different times of the year can provide clues about which species to look and listen for when visiting a new place. For example, as their name would suggest, marsh wrens thrive in areas with shallow water and thick vegetation, so if you are in a marsh in their native range, it would pay to keep an eye and an ear out for this species. However, it wouldn’t make sense to be looking for a rock wren at the same location. Birds certainly show up in weird places from time to time that don’t fit with the habitat they usually prefer, but for the most part, knowing the habitat a bird is most likely found in can make any biridng trip much more efficient.

Learn the Field Marks

Cooper's hawk vs Sharp-shinned Hawk
Graphic displaying diagnostics of Cooper’s Hawk vs Sharp-shinned Hawk

Knowing what specific physical traits to look for such as shape, proportions, and colors can be instrumental in identifying birds and streamlining the identification process. For example, a small group of birds flush from the side of road and into some brush. White marks are visibile on the tails of these birds. Knowing that Dark-eyed Juncos show these white flashes, it’s easy to determine with only a seconds glance that these birds were in fact juncos. There are many similar markings and colorations that can be used to identify birds even with just a quick look, but in addition to these things, behaviors can also be quite telling. For instance, in the world of warblers, only a few of them that live in north America bob their tails frequently including palm warblers and waterthrushes. Seeing this behavior can easily elimenate most other warblers as possibilities for the bird in question, thus maknig things much easier. These sorts of things come with time in the field but can also be learned from eperienced birders and even sometimes mentioned in online or print resrouces.

Know Your Calls

YouTube Video going over how to identify common backyard bird calls

In my opinion, the single best way to improve your birding skills is to learn the calls of birds in your area. Birding by ear is an extremely valuable skill for a variety of reasons. First, it can save valuable time as instead of chasing down birds making calls only to find that they are something common that you’ve already seen, you can decide what they are without even having to look at them. Another reason knowing bird calls can be extremely useful is because it makes it much easier to identify flying birds. Often times you may not even realize a bird s flying over, but hearing the call and identifying the bird from that instead of sight can add birds to your list that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to correctly identify or maybe even wouldn’t have know were there. In general, knowing bird calls can also help pinpoint birds of interest to get a better looks at them. When searching for a specific species, it always helps to know what it sounds like and can truly make the difference between an awesome sighting and going home without spotting your target bird.


It’s extremely rewarding to improve your birding skills. While simply going out and birding more will certainly help, focusing on these things will help dramatically elevate you to the next level. Are there any other things you found helped you to improve your birding skills? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you next time, on Badgerland Birding.

Flame-colored Tanager: The Rarest Bird Wisconsin has Ever Seen?

In the last few days of April, one of the rarest birds to ever be found in Wisconsin turned up on an eBird checklist. Originally believed to be a female Western Tanager, the bird turned out to be a female Flame-colored Tanager. As soon as word spread that this bird had been seen in the Milwaukee area, local birders quickly flocked to Sheridan Park along Lake Michigan to relocate it. The day after it was originally found, over 100 eBird checklists including the tanager were posted, and the flow of birders didn’t end there with more and more tanager hopefuls coming from far and wide in hopes of catching a glimpse of this rare visitor.

Why is the Tanager so Rare?

What is it about the Flame-colored Tanager that’s so rare? For starters, the natural range of this species is Central America and Mexico. Furthermore, the only two states in the U.S. to have a report of a Flame-colored Tanager in the last 100 years (at least according to eBird) are Arizona and Texas. So what is this bird doing so far from its normal range? Maybe its internal navigation system is a little out of whack, or maybe a weather pattern pushed it off course, but no matter the reason, this bird isn’t even sort of close to where it belongs.

Range map of Flame-colored Tanagers based on eBird sightings (Map from
The Thrill of the Chase

On the fourth day that the tanager was being seen, I made the trip to Sheridan Park and got a first hand look at the wildness a bird like this can bring.

I spent most of the day walking up and down the beach exchanging forlorn head shakes with other birders passing by. The gloomy weather matched the gloomy attitude of the group of searchers as there was no sign of the tanager since much earlier in teh morning. Had it moved on? Nobody knew for sure, but many of us were hopeful that it was still around.

Flame-colored Tanager in Milwaukee area, Wisconsin

I took a break and went to get food, but when I came back I saw birders starting to gather near the edge of the ravine on the north side of the park. I literally ran over to the group not wanting to miss whatever it was they were looking at. When my feet finally stopped moving and I found myself looking over the edge of the cliff, another birder who had come from Illinois to see the tanager told me they had just seen it in some of the brush halfway down the ravine. After a few minutes, the bird that I had searched for all day made an appearance and I got my extremely unlikely lifer Flame-colored Tanager in Milwaukee Wisconsin.

The group of birders grew to about 15 or 20 (nothing compared the 75 or so present the second day the tanager was seen) and consisted of people from many neighboring states, some of which had driven quite a ways just to see this bird. Everyone who had already seen the tanager was merry while those newly arriving were anxious and tense. We continued helping people get eyes on the bird and pointing new arrivals in the right direction. After hanging around for a half hour or so I called it a day and headed out.

View from the bluff where the tanager was viewed from
Final Thoughts

I have certainly been a part of many rare bird finds over the years both in the state and out of the state. Some of the wildest include a White-winged Tern in Wisconsin, and a Tundra Bean Goose in Iowa. This particular bird however, has gotten the birding community in the Midwest more hyped than I’ve seen it in a long time.

In terms of state rarity, the Flame-colored Tanager is certainly among the top rarest, if not the rarest bird Wisconsin has ever played host to. Based on what I have heard, the first day it was chase-able was absolutely insane, and even on the fourth day there was still a high number of birders coming to try and catch a glimpse at it.

Flame-colored Tanager

What will become of the Milwaukee Flame-colored Tanager? It’s hard to say, for the time being, it has plenty of gnats to eat and seems to be in great help. I suppose it depends on how it ended up here in the first place. If illness or weakness contributed to its unlikely journey to Wisconsin then the outcome will probably be on the grim side. However, its my hope that this bird will eventually meander its way back to Mexico and live out the rest of its life along with other members of its own species.

Either way, one thing is for sure: As long as the Flame-colored Tanager continues to be reported along the Lake Michigan coastline, birders from all over the country will continue coming to try and see it. Congratulations to all those who have already spotted this mega rarity, and good luck to those still searching.

Cover photo by Lori Howski.

Top 5 Common Birds to Find in the Rio Grande Valley

The Rio Grande Valley in South Texas is truly a remarkable place for birding. As one of the most southern points in the United States, this region plays host to many species that can’t be found anywhere else in the country. Some of these species are extremely rare and don’t show up on an annual basis, others however, are so common in the area that they are easy to find as long as you know the right places to look. These are the top five common bird species to find in the Rio Grande Valley.

5. Olive Sparrow

Coming in at number five is the secretive Olive Sparrow. Olive sparrows can be identified by their greenish yellow wings and tail, overall grayish body, and brown stripes on their face and head. While these sparrows may not look like much at first glance, they are actually quite fascinating. Olive Sparrows land at number five on our list due in part to the fact that South Texas is really the only place in the United States to find them. Even though Olive sparrows are a common bird in the Rio Grande Valley, they can be tricky to actually see. They prefer to stay low to the ground, foraging for seeds and small invertebrates to eat, often in thick cover. To get a nice, unobstructed view of this skulky sparrow, the best course of action is to find a bird feeding station and wait for a while. Eventually, an olive sparrow may come into view. The Olive Sparrow earns the number five spot on the list due to the fact that while they are sometimes hard to get a clear look at, they are in very high numbers in South Texas making them almost a guarantee to find with enough patience.

4. Great Kiskadee

The number four species on our list is one of the most boisterous birds in the valley, the Great Kiskadee. Great Kiskadees are in the flycatcher family and can be identified by their thick bill, bright yellow underside, black and white striped head, and chestnut colored wings. Their bright coloration is certainly one of the reasons this species is on the list, but another other is their range. 

Great Kiskadees are actually one of the most abundant Flycatchers in the Americas, but in the United States, they can only be found in the most Southern parts of the country. 

To find this species search areas with scrub or woodlines and look for their yellow underside which stands out in the green vegetation. It’s worth noting that Great Kiskadees will often travel in groups so if you manage to spot one, others may follow. If all else fails, simply listen for a loud “Kiskadee” call and follow it until you see the large flycatcher making the sound. The Great Kiskadee makes it onto this list due to the fact that for a beautiful bird species, they are so incredibly common in the Rio Grande Valley that they are a virtual gimme when birding there.

3. Plain Chachalaca

At number three on our list is one of the most uniue birds in the valley, the Plain Chachalaca. Plain Chahcalacas don’t quite fit into the same family group as other similar looking birds and are the only chachalaca found in the United States. With a grayish brown back and tail, lighter brown underside, and a body shape that resembles a peacock mixed with a turkey, Chachalacas not only look different than other birds in the galliforme family, but also act different as they often spend time in trees as opposed to on the ground. The Plain Chachalaca’s range barely makes it into the United States which is a major reason this species finds itself at number three on our list. Even though their range in the country isn’t expansive, these birds can be easy to find if you know where to look. Many of the state parks and wildlife refuges that feed the birds daily draw in reliable groups of these quirky birds that can get quite accustomed to humans being near. The Plain Chachalaca gets the number three spot on our list due to the fact that it’s so unique among United States birds and can only be found in the Rio grand valley.

2. Altamira Oriole

One of the most beautifully colored birds in the valley, adult Altamira Orioles are bright orange with a black back and wings along with a black mask. They have a white wing bar and a characteristic orange marking on their shoulder that helps seperate them from other similar oriole species. Juveniles look similar to the adults but with a more yellowish base color and gray wings. The Altamira Oriole takes the second spot on the list because while this spectacularly colored birds range in the U.S. is minuscule, in that range they can be found quite readily. These flame colored birds feed mostly on insects, fruit, and nectar, so feeding stations with citrus fruit and hummingbird feeders are great places to see them. Their beautiful look, along with their abundance in the valley lands this desirable species the number two spot on our list.

1. Green Jay

At number one is a species synonemous with South Texas, the Green Jay. Green Jays look like something painted by an artist rather than a naturally occuring species with their black and blue heads, yellow undersides, and green back, wings, and tail. The beauty of this species is certainly one of the reasons theyve earned the top spot on this list, but another is their charismatic personalities. Green Jays typically move around in small groups and are extremely adept at mimicry, often imitating hawks and other bird species. They are also one of the few north american birds documented using tools as they are known pry bark off trees with sticks to find food. In the United States, the only place to find these impressive birds is South Texas where they are a frequent site in woodlands, scrubby areas, and around bird feeders. To find Green Jays, the best places to search for them are wildlife refuges and nature center that consistently put out food. Waiting at a feeding station in one of these locations will most likely lead to an encounter with this species. Their beautiful coloration combined with their fascinating and entertaining behaviors elevates the Green Jay to number one on our list of the top five common birds to find in the rio grand valley. 

Do you agree with our list? Are their other birds you would put at the top of your list? Let us know in the comments below, and as always, thanks for watching, we’ll see you next time, on Badgerland Birding.

What’s the Difference Between Birding and Bird Watching?

Around the world there is a large community of people who share a fascination for birds. In fact, there are entire subcultures around the various hobbies that stem from this fascination. Words such as twitching, lifers, foys, birders, and bird watchers are all terms that are firmly integrated into the bird community. However, two of these terms are intriguing, because to those that aren’t terribly familiar with them, they appear to be the same thing. The two in question are birder and bird watcher. A quandary posed by many is whether or not they are actually the same thing or if they are in fact different. If they are different, than in what ways are they separate from one another? While this can certainly be debated, we’re here to help answer the question, what is the difference between a bird watcher and a birder?

To those not indoctrinated into the bird world, the common term for describing someone who has an interest in birds would be “bird watcher.” It is the term most known by the general public, but what does that actually describe? And is it accurate as a broad term to describe anyone interested in birds? To answer this, we turn to the Merriam Webster dictionary. This dictionary describes a bird watcher as…well “a birder.” And it describes a birder as “a person who observes or identifies wild birds in their natural habitat.” So it would seem that according to the dictionary, the terms could be used interchangeably, case closed, right? Not quite.

White-breasted Nuthatch

For the whole answer we must look inward to the bird community. One of the first mentions in pop culture of a difference between the terms comes from the movie “The Big Year,” in which a character refers to the hobby of searching out birds in their natural habitat as “bird watching” only to be met with a stern retort from one of the main characters named Stu (played by Steve Martin) that it is in fact called Birding. This is the first evidence that indicates there is a difference between a birder and a bird watcher, even though the dictionary doesn’t seem to think so. So, there may in fact be a difference, but what is it?

Based on discussions with others in the bird community the definitions could be as follows.

A bird watcher is someone who has a fascination for birds and typically views and notices them but does not actively search for them

Whereas a birder is sometone who actively seeks out birds.

In general, a birder would be a more specialized stage of bird watching in which more knowledge is gained and the hobby becomes more focused and driven. Birders may take vacations specifically to see birds and keep tallies of all of the birds they’ve seen in a competitive manner.

Spotted Towhee

A good comparison would be the hobby of cave exploring. Spelunking and caving are two terms that both describe the same activity, but caving has more of an emphasis on exploring for sport whereas spelunking in considered to be exploring as a light hobby.

In sum, both bird watching and birding are very similar, and the terms generally describe the same hobby, but there are some subtle differences with birders being more active in their pursuit of seeing birds. In the end, does it really matter? Probably not, but as the hobby of birding continues to grow, there will undoubtedly be more subgroups that pop up, and maybe someday people will even petition the Merriam Webster dictionary to more distinctly define the two terms. Until then, thanks for watching we’ll see you next time, on Badgerland Birding.

3 Tools That Can Help You Identify Birds

One of the key elements of birding is the process of identifying individual birds to the correct species. Some species are extremely distinctive looking and easy to differentiate, but then there are some that are quite similar to the point where even seasoned birders have some trouble making a positive ID. Whether you’re a beginner just learning the basics, or a veteran birder who wants to brush up on some tricky IDs, here are 3 tools that can help you correctly identify birds.

Merlin Bird ID and Other Apps

There are numerous apps out there specifically for identifying birds such as the Audobon and Sibley bird guide apps that allow users access to ID info on their phone. There are also many apps that walk users through the process of identification and end up giving the user suggestions for what the bird most likely is

One of the most popular of these apps is Merlin. Merlin has a ton of different features to help users easily figure out what bird they are looking at or hearing. With a step-by-step wizard that askes the user questions about the birds size, shape, and color, visual recognition from photos, and even call recognition, the merlin birding app is currently unmatched in terms of leading the user to an accurate identification.

While these apps can be instrumental in learning about identifying birds and even arriving at the correct conclusion about which species an individual belongs to, they are not without their shortcomings. The suggested birds aren’t accurate 100 percent of the time and it’s worth double checking any ID given from any of these apps.

Facebook Groups

Facebook groups are a fantastic resource for identifying birds. With tons of experienced birders in state or regional birding groups, there will almost certainly be someone in the group that can help you arrive at a correct ID. Additionally there are birding groups on Facebook specifically made for people to get answers on their identification questions. Some of the ones I use most often are What’s this Bird? American birding association and the bird identification group of the world. Similarly to the ID apps, sometimes people will make incorrect ID suggestions on Facebook groups as well, but most of the time the right conclusion will eventually be reached.

Bird Guide Books

Sometimes the old school way of doing things can also be the best. Hard copy bird guides are still incredibly useful when it comes to identifications. With many to choose from including Sibley, Stokes, Peterson and Kaufman just to name a few, there is a lot of variety in terms of how the information in these books is presented and plenty of debate over which one is the best. Additionally, there are field guides available for specific states, countries, and provinces as well that are great for learning the birds in your own backyards, or the species you are likely to encounter on a vacation.

Mountain Bluebird

Many of these bird guides offer side by side comparisons and note the field markings of the bird and how to differentiate between similar species. Overall, sometimes it’s just helpful to crack open a book and do some research to figure out what a bird is on your own. 

All three of these tools can be incredibly useful in understanding which species you’re looking at in the field. While individually each one is of great help, using all three is even better as you can thoroughly explore all of the possibilities. Which one of these tools do you prefer using? Let us know in the comments below.

How to Prevent Hawks and Falcons from Killing Backyard Birds

The typically peaceful bird feeder breaks into commotion as a large, fast shape flies past the window. The typical birds of the yard scatter and for a while, the feeders are empty and quiet.

Hawks and falcons are predatory birds that frequently take advantage of bird feeding stations as a source of concentrated prey. Some people love to see hawks in their yard as they are an important part of the ecosystem and a key link in the food chain. However, there are others who can’t stand hawks because they kill the backyard birds that they have cared for and loved to watch.

If you feed birds, hawks will certainly be a potential problem for your backyard birds. While there is no way to prevent them coming to your yard, there are some things you can do to help the birds at your feeders survive a visit from a hawk or falcon. Here are some things you can do to prevent hawks and falcons from killing your backyard birds.

Provide cover from above

Hawks and falcons have incredible eyesight and often spot prey while flying or perched high up in trees. To keep birds out of the sight of hawks, put feeders under something covered. Whether it’s a tree, an awning, or a structure built specifically for feeder cover, something to conceal the birds from predators flying above can be very helpful in mitigating the number of casualties at your bird feeder.

Provide ground cover

Another way to help out backyard birds is by providing low cover near bird feeders. If hawks and falcons do visit, it’s helpful for birds to have an easy escape route. Shrubs, bushes, and thick trees can all serve as places for small birds to conceal themselves in the event of a hawk or falcon attack. Combining high cover and low cover can definitely go a long way in giving backyard birds a fighting chance.

Black-capped Chickadee

Put up window decals

Hawks and falcons have learned to take advantage of the panic that ensues when they dive bomb a bird feeder. Often times, birds are in such a hurry to escape that they fly right into windows. The birds that hit the window end up stunned or deceased, making them significantly easier to catch. Some sources say that this is an intentional practice learned by hawks in particular, but it may also be coincidence. To help prevent birds from hitting the windows while a predatory bird is around, placing decals on the windows can show birds that the path is not clear and steer them in a direction where they can actually escape.

Take down feeders

If a predatory bird finds a feeding station and thus an easy source of food, they will often come back time and time again to hunt. Taking down bird feeders for one to two weeks can be an effective way of breaking the pattern. The downside to this method is that the birds typically visiting the feeder will also need to find a different food source while the feeders are down. While many of them will eventually come back, this could be hard on the birds if they are accustomed to the easy food source (especially in winter when food is far less plentiful). Nevertheless, it is a way to persuade a predatory bird to move on from your bird feeder.

Cooper’s Hawk

Do nothing

Hawks and falcons are natural parts of the bird world and while their presence can be saddening for those that feed birds, predatory birds are actually helpful to have around. They aid in the preventing certain species from overpopulating an area and they eat other types of animals that can be pests such as mice. While trying to fight back against predatory birds (metaphorically speaking) has been the norm for many backyard bird watchers, sometimes accepting their presence can actually be the best thing to do.

Seeing birds of prey taking backyard birds from your bird feeder can certainly be distressing, but by using these tips, you can give your backyard birds the best chance possible to escape unharmed. However, as stated previously, sometimes the best thing to do is to learn to live with these natural predators and enjoy the circle of life taking place in your own backyard.

7 Sneaky Tips to Find Owls in the Wild

Out of all of the different varieties of birds, some of the most captivating are owls. These majestic and charismatic animals have long since been held in high regard by many different cultures all across the globe, and even today hold special importance to many people.

For birders, owls are often a coveted bird to find and photograph. However, due to the nocturnal nature of most species, owls are often secretive and difficult to find. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to make finding owls easier. 

Before we get into our tips, we want to stress how important it is to be respectful of owls as they can be sensitive to human disturbance. While viewing them, stay a significant distance away, don’t stay too long, and look for signs of stress such as fluffing, trying to appear thin, wide eyes, or flushing. If you notice any of these signs, back away slowly and leave the area. With that in mind, here are our seven tips. 

Know the Habitat

One extremely important thing to recognize about owls, is that while they fall into one large category, each species is unique with its own set of behaviors and places they prefer to live. For example, Barred Owls generally prefer to live in old growth forest and swampland while short eared owls prefer open prairies and marshes with few trees. Snowy Owls can be found in areas with wide open spaces like farmland and even airports, while Great Gray owls can be found near conifer bogs and boreal forests. Looking for a species of owl in a habitat they typically aren’t found in will generally not yield positive results, but understanding what type of biome each individual species prefers, will greatly increase your chances of having a run-in with an owl.

Brush up on Behaviors

Not only does each owl species prefer a different habitat, but they also go about their lives in different ways, including different hunting habits and flight patterns. One important thing to note is when each species will be most active and when they will be roosting. For example, Snowy Owls can often be seen during the day and will be visible for long periods of time while they survey the landscape for prey. Great horned Owls are mostly nocturnal and will be active during the night and roosting during the day. Short eared owls are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. Knowing what an owl will be doing at a particular time of day is vital, in order to make sure you are timing your efforts correctly and looking in the right places.

Barred Owl

Know the Range of the Bird You are Looking For

Range is an incredibly important thing to take note of for all bird species and owls are no exception. Get to know which owls are in the area you plan to look in and even more than that, know the time of year they are most common in the area. Many owl species have annual migrations and may only be in a particular area for a season, meaning timing can be everything. Knowing that the birds range overlaps with the places you’re looking in will help maximize your efforts.

Keep an Eye out for Roosting Sites

Most owls have specific places they return to when they aren’t active. These sites can be a particular grove of trees, a certain cavity in a tree, or even a specific branch that they seem to like. Taking some extra time to check out holes in trees or looking for roosting branches can sometimes be just what you need to find one of these secretive birds.

Look for Evidence

Sometimes the best way to find an owl is to look for clues that they leave behind. Owl pellets and droppings (known as whitewash) underneath a roosting site is a great sign that you are hot on the trail of an owl. Search the surrounding area to see if you can find a roosting owl in the vicinity. Some species will repeatedly use the same nesting sites and can be found once you know the general area to look.

Eastern Screech Owl

Let the Other Birds Help You

Sometimes all you have to do to find an owl is to listen to other birds. Crows have a habit of harassing owls when they find them in their territory, and a mob of crows making noise can mean there’s an owl in the area. Other species such as chickadees and titmice will also try to drive off smaller owls, and listening for chatter from them can also lead you to an owl sighting. Keep an eye and ear out for these mobbing events and search the area carefully to see if you can locate the reason why the other birds are upset. Note that hawks and other predatory birds also get mobbed so it may not always be an owl that they are chasing away.

Get Connected with Other Birders

Often times the best way to find an owl is to get connected with other birders who already know of the best spots to look for them. Facebook groups and reaching out to local birders can be a great way to obtain information, although some groups restrict the posting of certain species or specific locations. Another useful tool is eBird in which sightings of many different birds are recorded along with the location they were found in. Do note however that some sensitive species such as Long-eared owls may not show up on eBird reports as their locations are hidden to protect them from getting overstressed by people wanting to see them.

Owls are certainly a special type of bird and are very enchanting to see in the wild. It’s worth noting one more time that while these birds are extremely cool to see, they can be easily stressed out by humans so please be respectful and keep plenty of distance between you and the owl. We hope these tips were helpful to you and as always, thanks for watching, we’ll see you next time, on Badgerland Birding.

5 Common Backyard Birds You WANT at Your Bird Feeder

Bird feeding is a gigantic industry in the United States with billions of dollars going toward making sure backyard birds are happy and fed each year. In North America there are tons of different species that visit bird feeders, but there are some that are especially nice to have around. Whether it’s due to their coloration or personality, here are five birds that you absolutely want to come visit your bird feeders.

Please note that these birds are specific to North America and some have a limited range. Even so, most of them have similar counterparts in other parts of the continent. Also note that this is a subjective list and some people may have totally different thoughts on the birds they love to see most at their feeders. Put your favorites in the comments below and be respectul of others opinions. Without further ado, here is the list.

5. Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal – Photo by Bill Grossmeyer

Kicking off the list at number 5 is the Northern Cardinal. The Northern Cardinal is one of the most recognizable and beloved bird species in North America. Males have a red body and crest, black by their bright orange bill, and slightly darker colorations on their wings and tail. Females are grayish brown with the same bright orange bill and a duller black mask. They have hints of red on their crest, wings, and tail. 

Northern cardinals are native to the Eastern United States as well as some of the southwestern states and Mexico, so to all of you in the northwestern US watching…sorry about this one, but you have plenty of other cool species that the Eastern half of the country doesn’t get. 

Cardinals are adored for a variety of reasons including the long-held belief by many that they bring good luck. At bird feeders, cardinals are fairly skittish and like to stay hidden in tangled branches. They will however come out in the open to feed adding a nice splash of color. Another interesting thing about Northern Cardinals is that they are extremely late feeders, often being some of the last birds to be eating, and even staying out in the twilight hours. The reason they aren’t higher up is due to the fact that their limited range prevents feeder watchers in the northwestern states from being able to see this bird regularly. Even so, these relatively peaceful birds can be an uplifting sight to see at a bird feeder and for that reason, the Northern Cardinal has earned a spot on the list.

4. Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse – Photo by Mark Goad

At number four is another bird with a crest, the Tufted Titmouse. The Tufted Titmouse is a cute and charismatic species of the Eastern United States. Not to fear if you live in the Western United States however, as many other similar looking and similar acting titmouse species live there including the black-crested, the juniper, and the oak. The Tufted Titmouse gets the spot on the list because it has a larger range than the other titmouse species in the Untied States. The Tufted Titmouse is in the same family as chickadees, and observing one for even just a short amount of time will make the similarities easy to see as both species are incredibly acrobatic and personable. 

This species can be identified by its gray back, wings and crest, white underside, black marking near the bill, and peach sides. They are quite fun to watch at bird feeders as they are quick moving and rarely sit still. Tufted Titmice often frequent bird feeders when food is less plentiful such as in the winter months, and have been known to actually store food during the fall. During these months they will visit more often and can even be seen stashing seeds away for later consumption.

Even though Tufted Titmice are only found in the Eastern United States, the fact that they have comparable western counter parts elevates them on this list, and their fun personalities make them far too entertaining to leave off.

3. American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

At number three is a species that plays nice with other birds, the Americn Goldfinch. During the breeding months, these birds are extremely colorful, with males having bright yellow covering most of their bodies, a black cap on their head, and black wings, as well as a black partially forked tail. In non breeding plumage, American Goldfinches 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,  they also have less black on the top of their head. 

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. 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. These flocks of mixed finches can be quite fun to watch and it can be entertaining to try and pick out the different species in the groups.

For people in the Southwestern United states, another species, the Lesser Goldfinch plays a similar role to that of the American Goldfinch in the North. Male Lesser Goldfinches have a yellow underside and darker colored backs ranging from greenish to black depending on the region. They also have a white marking on their wings as opposed to the white wingbars of the American Goldfinch. Females are more dull overall. Both the Lesser Goldfinch and the American Goldfinch bring a lot of energy to a bird feeder but the American Goldfinch is more widespread giving them the nod over the lesser goldfinch and the less common Lawrence’s Goldfinch which also inhabits some parts of the Western United States.

The fact that American Goldfinches are so colorful and energetic, mixed with the fact that they are a great species for a community of birds in a yard, land them a spot in the top three. 

2. White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Out of all of the birds that visit bird feeders, some of the goofiest are nuthatches. Out of the four nuthatch species that are typically found in the United States, the White-breasted Nuthatch is the most widespread with most of the lower 48 states having them year round. These hilarious birds can be identified by their blue-gray back and wings, white face and underside, and black stripe on the top of their head from their back to their bill. White-breasted Nuthatches are entertaining acrobats that cling to trees, hopping up and down, often scouring branches for insects. They come and go from bird feeders quite quickly, usually taking a seed and either eating it away from the feeder or hammering it into a tree crevice to save for later.

Another nuthatch species fairly common at bird feeders in the United States is the Red-breasted Nuthatch. These birds, described by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s all about birds site as “an internse bundle of energy at your feeder” reside in the northern and western United States year round, and many of the more southern states in winter. They have white and black striped heads, blueish gray backs and wings, and a namesake reddish orange chest and underside. Like the Whte-breasted Nuthatch, Red-Breasted Nuthatches are very fun to watch, they are always moving and even when not in sight can be identified by their distinctive laughing call.

Nuthatch species in general are quite entertaining, and in addition to the White-breasted and the Red breasted, there are two other species in the U.S. that sometimes come to feeders, the Brown-headed Nuthatch and the Pygmy Nuthatch. Bown-headed Nuthatches live in the southeastern part of the United States while the Pygmy Nuthatch lives in parts of the western U.S. (typically areas with long needled pine trees). Both of these species are less frequent in backyards and at bird feeders but can be lured in with suet.

The entertainment value associated with having White-breasted Nuthatches visiting your bird feeder combined with the fact that they live throughout the United States put them at number two on the list.

1. Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Taking the top spot on the list is the fan favorite, Black-capped Chickadee. Black-capped chickadees are extremely recognizable with a very small stature, back head and throat, gray wings, and light tan wash on their sides. Black cappd chickadees inhabit north america year round and are one of the most common birds to find in forests and at bird feeders in the winter time. While Black-capped Chickadees aren’t typically found in many of the southern states in the U.S. Other Chickadee species are, including the Mountain Chickadee, the Mexican Chickadee, and the very similar looking Carolina chickadee. In the northern parts of the U.S. and Canada there is also another chickadee species, the Boreal Chickadee which is a bit more shy than the black-capped but also comes to bird feeders. 

Black-capped Chickadees are great to have around for a variety of reasons. First, they aren’t normally aggressive toward other birds and can happily get along with most species. They don’t stick around at the feeders very long, preferring to come in to grab a seed and then crack it open on a neary perch. Black-capped Chickadees certainly bring a lot of energy with their constant moving around, and they can also be comfortable enough around humans to be fed by hand. Overall, they are a great species to have around in addition to other chickadee species across North America, and find themselves as the top bird species you absolutely want at your bird feeder.


Check out the video version of this post on the Badgerland Birding YouTube Channel

With so many different bird species in the world, everyone has a different opinion on which they prefer to see at their feeders. That being said, there is something fun and special about these five. Whether due to their color, energy, or personality, these are five birds you absolutely want at your feeders. Do you agree with our list? Let us know in the comments below. And as always, thanks for watching, we’ll see you next time, on Badgerland Birding

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.

5 Weird places birders go to find birds

Birding is a past time that can take you to some of the most amazing and beautiful places on planet earth. Between state parks, national wildlife refuges, and pristine wilderness, there is no end to the breathtaking habitats that birds call home. However, birds don’t always turn up in the most secluded places, and instead flock to where they can find food and shelter. For this reason, the quest for birds can take those who seek them out to some extremely strange places. Here are the top 5 weird places birders go to find birds.

5. Roadsides

Horned Lark along the side of a country road

Every birder has had the experience of spotting a bird from their car. Birds frequently hang out along the sides of roads taking advantage of edge habitat and high perches making it easy to spot prey. In many instances, the actual side of the road is a great place for birds to find insects and seeds. In winter, plows clear snow and churn up the substrate, allowing birds that forage along the ground access to an easy meal. Sparrows, finches, grouse, longspurs, Horned Larks and more can all be found along roadsides as they forage. Not only are road sides great places for birds, but the option to go birding by car makes it easy to cover a lot of ground and see a lot of different habitats, even though it’s not a place many non birders would expect to find birds.

4. Sod Farms

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Photo by Bill Grossmeyer)

Farms in general are a great place to find birds. With an abundance of food, flooded fields, and a lot of open space, it’s no wonder birds frequent these areas. Of the different types of farms, the most specific and strange place to find birds is the sod farm. During fall, these farms play host to shorebirds migrating down from the north including black-bellied plovers, American golden plovers, and buff breasted sandpipers. In addition to these species, other birds that frequent agricultural fields and open spaces can also be found roaming the turf, making it a fun and ecclectic place to go birding..

3. Cemeteries

White-winged Crossbills

At first glance a cemetery may not seem like a place that birds would frequent, but it’s not about the cemetery itself, rather what’s planted there. Many cemeteries have decorative fruit trees or small groves of pines. The fruit trees can draw in birds like robins and waxwings, as well as winter migrants like Pine Grosbeaks looking for a meal. Pines can bring in species like Red-breasted Nuthatches, crossbills and other cone feeders. Although it may sound a bit odd to spend your free time lurking around a cemetery, if the right trees are planted there, they can be havens for some fascinating birds.

2. Stranger’s Houses

Rufous Hummingbird visiting a bird feeder

Most people that have been birding for a while have been involved in a home feeder stake out situation. The event usually plays out like this: A homeowner reports a rarity visiting their feeder, word gets out that the homeowner is allowing visitors, and birders from all over the region come to see the rare bird. Many times, homeowners are extremely welcoming and enjoy meeting the birders that come to visit. Even so, when you think about sitting in your car and spying on a strangers bird feeder, the idea is pretty weird. 

1. Landfills

Gulls gathering just outside of a landfill

Out of all the strange places to find birds, there is none more out of left field than the dump. As it turns out, a lot of opportunistic bird species find the food scraps in the garbage to be a convenient food source. These species include crows, ravens, eagles, and most of all gulls. In fact, landfills are one of the best places to find large groups of gulls including some that are considered regionally rare. While it’s certainly not an appealing or beautiful place to bird, the dump can serve as an important spot to find a variety of species.

 Did you agree with our list? Is there another strange place to bird that we left off? Let us know in the comments below. Also, be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding YouTube channel.