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Badgerland Birding Photography Contest Rules and Guidelines

We are happy to announce the Badgerland Birding YouTube channel is hosting a photography contest May 2023! This contest is open to anyone and everyone across the globe and we encourage everyone to invite their friends and participate. Check out the rules below to get started!

Photography contest announcement video

Entry Process

To enter the Badgerland Birding May photography contest, email your photos to You must also include the photo release from that you can find by clicking this link. Please also indicate the categories you want each photo to be entered into in the email body. The contest goes from May 12, 2023 to June 12, 2023 and submitions must be sent in by June 13, 2023. Photos submitted into the contest must be taken between the contest dates.

Red-winged Blackbird – Photo by Bill Grossmeyer

Judging and Selection Process

Finalists in each category will be selected from the pool of submissions and then voted on with an open voting process on the Badgerland Birding website and YouTube channel.

Photo Categories

Photos entered must pertain to one of the following categories.

Best cute bird photo
Photos in this category must be of birds typically thought of as cute such as chickadees, titmice, wrens, etc.
Best spring landscape with bird photo

Photos in this category must involve spring landscapes in addition to birds. An example would be birds in a tree with blooming flowers. This category can include warblers even though they also have their own category.
Best warbler photo

Photos in this category must be of birds considered to be warblers (wood warblers count too).
Best photo of a colorful bird

Photos in this category must be of bids that exhibit bright colors such as tanagers, orioles, etc.
Best photo of bird nesting behavior

Photos in this category must be of birds exhibiting nesting behaviors such as building nests or raising chicks.
Best hummingbird photo

Photos in this category must be of hummingbirds.
Best bird in flight photo

Photos in this category must be of birds that are in flight in the photo.
Best digiscoped photo

Photos in this category must be taken with the method of digiscoping
Best bird of prey photo

Photos in this category must be of birds of prey such as falcons, hawks, eagles, or owls. (Photos of owls must show relaxed owls, if they look alarmed, we will not enter the photo into the contest).
Best photo of a bird fishing

Photos in this category must show birds actively fishing such as terns, herons, etc.

Piping Plover

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I submit photos not taken between the contest dates?
Photos submitted into the contest must be taken between May 12, 2023 and June 12, 2023.

How many photos can I enter per category?
You can submit up to three (3) photos per category.

Can I enter the same photo in multiple categories?
You can only enter an individual photo in one category, so make sure you choose wisely.

How much editing can be done to entered photos?
Moderate editing can be done to images, however, if the image is noticeably altered it will not be entered into contention.

What are the prizes for winners?
Winners will be showcased on the Badgerland Birding website and in a video on the Badgerland Birding YouTube channel about the contest. Winners of each category will also be entered in a drawing for free Badgerland Birding merchandise.


We are extremely excited to be hosting our first ever photo contest and hope to get as many participants as possible! Please pass along our contest to your friends and have fun birding and taking photos this spring! For additional questions, feel free to reach out.

Terns of Wisconsin (5 Species)

Terns are some of the most sleek and acrobatic species of birds in the world. They swiftly swoop, hover, and dive through the skies across North America. With many terns having similar looking plumages, they can be difficult to tell apart. Fortunately, with a little knowledge about tern identification and where they are most expected, it becomes easier to tell them apart.

Wisconsin is home to four species of terns that are annual and fairly common in the state, in addition to one species that is extremely rare. Here is everything that you need to know about the terns of Wisconsin.

Arctic Tern (Rare)

Arctic Tern – Photo by Bill Grossmeyer

Arctic Terns in breeding plumage have a clean white body with gray wings, a dark black cap on the head, a reddish orange bill, and short reddish orange legs. In nonbreeding plumage, the black cap is replaced by a black stripe over the eye and the legs and bill are black as opposed to reddish orange.


Arctic Terns are extreme long-distance migrants spending the summer in Northern Canada, Alaska, and the Northern most parts of Europe. They winter in Antarctica, meaning they fly from pole to pole each migratory season.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Arctic Terns feed mostly on fish but will also eat insects. To catch fish, these birds will hover above the water and plunge in headfirst to try and nab prey just below the surface.

Where to Find this Bird

Arctic Terns are a species that is rare in most parts of the continental United States and can usually only be seen during migration. Look for this species near large bodies of water as they typically migrate offshore. Keep an eye out for a short and stout looking tern amongst Common Terns and Forster’s Terns.

Black Tern

Black Tern – Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

In breeding plumage, Black Terns have gray wings with white on the shoulder area. They have an overall black body and head, black bill and legs, and white underside behind the legs. Nonbreeding Black Terns are much paler with a white head and body and just a small patch of black color near the eye.


Black Terns winter in Northern South America and make their migratory journey north in spring when they spread out across most of Mexico and the continental United States. They breed in South-central Canada and the Northern United States.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Black Terns are very acrobatic as they forage for food and catch prey on the fly. They eat small fish and insects, usually by flying low over marshy areas. One interesting thing about Black Terns is that they do not plunge into the water to catch fish like many other tern species do.

Where to Find This Bird

In winter, Black Terns can be found around coastal habitats but in spring and summer, marshes and swamps become the best place to locate this species.

In Wisconsin, there are a variety of marshes that Black Terns can be found breeding in. One of the best places in the state to find them is Horicon Marsh.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

Caspian Terns are extremely large for terns. In fact, they are the largest tern species in the entire world. They are white with gray wings, black legs, and a chunky red bill. Caspian Terns also have a black cap in breeding plumage which fades in nonbreeding plumage and looks more like a black smudge near the eye.


Caspian Terns are extremely widespread in not only North America but the entire world. This species got their name due to the fact that they were common around the Caspian Sea (which they still are to this day). Caspian Terns can be found along the coasts of Australia, Africa, Southern Asia, Europe, and North America.

In North America, Caspian Terns winter in Mexico, Souther California, the Gulf Coast, Florida, and along the Atlantic Coast. They migrate north in spring and nest in parts of Canada, the Western United States, and the Great Lakes.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Caspian Terns primarily feed on fish but will also eat crustaceans and insects. This species feeds in the same way that other terns do; flying above the water to search for food and diving headfirst into the water when they see something they want to catch.

Where to Find this Bird

Caspian Terns frequent ocean coastlines as well as the shores of large inland bodies of water. They are most easy to find during migration when they show up in fairly large numbers along beaches and can be seen and heard flying over the water. In the Midwestern states, the Great Lakes are a fantastic place to find this species.

Common Tern

Common Tern – Photo by Michele Lamberti

In breeding plumage, Common Terns have a white head and body with gray wings, a black cap, an orange bill with a black tip, and orange legs. An important feature in Common Terns that separates them from the nearly identical Forster’s Tern is the color of the primary feathers in adults. In Common Terns they will be dark gray while in Forster’s Terns they will be light gray to white. Nonbreeding adults will not have a complete black cap but rather a partial cap with the front of the head showing white.


Common Terns winter along the Coasts of South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Gulf of Mexico. In spring they move north into Canada and parts of the Northern United States, including the Great Lakes states.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Common Terns eat primarily small fish but will also eat crustaceans and other marine and freshwater invertebrates. They will catch fish from the surface of the water while flying or dive into the water to catch prey.

Where to Find this Bird

Common Terns are birds of coasts and shorelines. They are typically found along large bodies of water such as the oceans and the Great Lakes. They can be seen resting on beaches and sandbars.

In Wisconsin, Common Terns can be found along Lake Michigan in the spring and summer where they will be in mixed flocks of terns and gulls.

Forster’s Tern

Forster’s Tern – Photo by Bill Grossmeyer

Breeding plumage Forster’s Terns have a white body and white forked tail, orange legs, an orange bill with a black tip, and a black cap going from their neck to their bill. They have light gray wings and light-colored wingtips (which is an import thing to note when differentiating between Forster’s Terns and Common Terns).

Nonbreeding Forster’s Terns look almost the same as in breeding plumage but instead of a full black cap, they have a black streak that covers their eye.


Forster’s Terns winter along the Southern coasts of the United States and Mexico. They migrate north during the spring and breed in Southern Canada, portions of the Western U.S. and specific places along the Great Lakes. Forster’s Terns are year-round residents of Eastern Texas and Southern Louisiana in addition to parts of the Atlantic Coast near North Carolina and Maryland.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Forster’s Terns feed primarily on fish which they catch in a very distinctive manor. These terns will hover above the water, and suddenly plunge themselves below the surface. In addition to fish, they will also eat insects.

Where to Find this Bird

Forster’s Terns can be found in both freshwater and saltwater marshes in addition to coast lines.

In Wisconsin, these birds can be found along the coasts of the Great Lakes during migration and breed in marshes over the summer. One marsh in particular where Forster’s Terns can be found is Horicon Marsh.


Terns are quick and acrobatic birds that can sometimes be difficult to identify since so many of them are similar looking. 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 terns of Wisconsin.

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

Loons of North America (5 Species to Know)

Loons are beautiful and majestic birds that spend almost their entire lives on the water. There are five species of loons in North America and some of them overlap in range and general appearance. Knowing where to find them and what to look for in terms of identification can be incredibly helpful in knowing which of the five species you are looking at in the field.

Arctic Loon

Arctic Loon – Photo by Francesco Veronesi

In breeding plumage, Arctic Loons have black wings, a gray back of the neck and head, and a white underside. They have white markings on their wings, white vertical striping on the base of the neck and reddish purple coloration on the front of their neck. In nonbreeding plumage they are grayish brown on the top and white on the underside.


Arctic Loons live throughout Europe and on the Eastern coasts of Asia. In North America, these birds can be found in Western Alaska and occasionally show up on the West coast of the United States, but these are rare occasions.

Diet and Foraging Habits

The diet of Arctic Loons vary depending on the season. In winter they eat mostly small fish, but in summer they eat more in addition to fish including crustaceans, insects, and aquatic invertebrates.

Where to Find This Bird

In North America, the only place to even somewhat have a chance to find this European Species is in Western Alaska along the coast line. Otherwise, chasing rare reports of this species along the Pacific coast of the United States is probably the best way to add this bird to your life list.

Common Loon

Common Loon – Photo by Alan SChmierer

In breeding plumage, Common Loons have a black back, wings, neck, and head with white checkerboard markings on the wings, and a white “necklace” marking. The black on the head and neck is iridescent and can show a green sheen in the right lighting. Common Loons have a white underside and some thin black striping on the neck going down the sides. In nonbreeding plumage, this species is dark gray brown on the back, wings, and top of the head. They also have white on the throat and underside. The species still displays the white necklace marking even in nonbreeding plumage.


Common Loons are extremely wide spread throughout North America. In winter, they can be found wintering along the ocean coastlines of both the Atlantic and the Pacific. They winter as far south as Mexico and as far north as the Aleutian Islands. In spring, the birds wintering in the Southern parts of the continent move north into the Northern United States and most of Canada where they spend the summer.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Common Loons feed primarily on fish but will also eat crustaceans and aquatic invertebrates. They are extremely good at diving for food and can stay underwater for considerable amounts of time. While some species are ambush predators such as herons, Loons are active hunters as they are very agile swimmers.

Where to Find This Bird

As their name would suggest, Common Loons are in fact common in most parts of the United States and Canada at least for some portion of the year. During winter, this species can be seen on the ocean coastlines, while in spring they tend to appear on inland lakes and ponds. During their breeding season, look for Common Loons in deep, clear lakes in the boreal forests where they prefer plenty of plant cover along the shores.

Pacific Loon

Pacific Loon – Photo by Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Pacific Loons are chunky birds with rather complex patterning when in breeding plumage. They have brownish black backs and wings with large white square-shaped markings along with white spots. They have a grayish head with a purplish front of the neck and white and black vertical stripes on the side of the neck. The underside of this species is white. In nonbreeding plumage, Pacific Loons are brownish gray with a white underside.


The aptly named Pacific Loon winters all along the Pacific coast of the United States from Mexico to Alaska. In spring, they move to their breeding grounds in Northern Canada, Alaska, and Eastern Asia.

Diet and Foraging Habits

The vast majority of the Pacific Loon’s diet is comprised of fish. They will also eat crustaceans and aquatic invertebrates.

Where to Find This Bird

Look for Pacific Loons on the coastlines of the Pacific Ocean where they prefer areas with sandy bottoms as opposed to rocky bottoms. During breeding season, this species can be found in tundra ponds and lakes.

Red-throated Loon

Red-throated Loon – Photo by Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

In breeding plumage, Red-throated Loons have a grayish brown back and wings. Most of their head and neck is gray with white striping on the back of the neck going up to the top of the head. They have a deep red colored throat which is where they get their name from. In nonbreeding plumage, Red-throated Loons have a white throat and underside. They also have a dark brownish gray back and head with white speckles.


Red-throated Loons winter on the coasts of the United States and Canada. They don’t typically make it too far into Mexico or the Gulf Coast but will winter as far north as Southern Alaska. In spring, they move north across the continent making appearances in large bodies of water such as the Great Lakes. They breed in Northern and Western Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and Eastern Asia.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Red-throated Loons eat a wide variety of fish and invertebrates including squid, crustaceans, aquatic insects, and marine worms. Like other loon species, these birds dive for their food and actively hunt small creatures below the surface.

Yellow-billed Loon

Yellow-billed Loon – Photo by Bureau of Land Management Alaska

In breeding plumage, Yellow-billed Loons have a black back, wings, and head, with white square markings on the back and wings. They have a white “necklace” marking, a pure white underside, and a large pale yellow bill. Nonbreeding plumage birds look extremely dull in comparison with a white underside and a grayish brown back, wings, and top of the head.


Yellow-billed Loons winter along the Southwestern coasts of Alaska, the Western coast of Canada, and the Northwestern coast of the United States. In summer, they make their way to the Northern shores of Alaska and the high arctic of Northern Canada. Yellow-billed Loons do have a habit of showing up seemingly randomly in the continental United States where they are a rare visitor.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Yellow-billed Loons feed on fish, crustaceans, and insects when they are available in the warmer months. They find food by diving for it. Often times they can be seen dipping their head in clear water to look for food that they can catch.

Where to Find This Bird

Yellow-billed Loons can be found along coastal shores in winter and lakes on the tundra in summer. They don’t often spend time in the center of deep lakes but rather in more shallow areas.


Loons are fascinating divers that provide nice variety among other water-dwelling birds. Knowing the species that are expected in your state and region can be instrumental in identifying which one you’re looking at in the field. Hopefully, this article has helped to answer some questions about the loons of North America.

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

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Kingfishers of Wisconsin (1 Species to Know)

Kingfishers are fascinating birds that specialize in catching and eating fish. There are a handful of different kingfisher species in North America, but only one species that can be found in Wisconsin. Here is everything you need to know about that species.

Belted Kingfisher

Male Belted Kingfisher (Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Southwest Region)
Female Belted Kingfisher (Photo by USFWS Midwest Region)

Belted Kingfishers are short, compact birds with large pointed bills. Males are grayish blue with a large crest, a white underside, and a grayish blue band across their chest. Females look similar to the males but have rust on their sides and a second band (rust colored) underneath the blue chest band. Both males and females have a white spot near their eye on each side of the head.


Belted Kingfishers winter in Northern South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Southern United States. In spring they migrate north throughout most on the United States, Canada, and Alaska where they spend the summer. Some Belted Kingfishers stay in the Northern United States year round provided there is open water.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Belted Kingfishers are primarily fish-eaters, choosing to eat fish that are on the medium to small side such as sticklebacks and various minnows. They find and catch prey by sitting high on a perch and scanning for fish by sight. Once they spot something they want, they dive in head first and use their bill to grab onto the food item. In addition to fish, Belted Kingfishers will also eat amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans, and small mammals.

Where to Find This Bird

Belted Kingfishers can be found near water including rivers, ponds, streams, and lakes. Clear water is most optimal for kingfishers as they need to be able to see prey in order to catch it. Listen for this species rattling call and look for them swooping low as they fly from perch to perch.


Kingfishers are unique birds that occupy a very specific niche in the ecosystem. With just one species living in Wisconsin, any encounter with one of these vibrant and energetic birds is sure to be a Belted Kingfisher. Hopefully this post has helped answer some of your questions about the Kingfishers of Wisconsin.

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

Plovers of Wisconsin (5 Species to Know)

Plovers are a type of shorebird characterized by their round appearance and often look plump. They can be found near water or in open fields. While they are a sub-group of shorebirds, there are many species of plovers in the United States. In this post, you will be able to see all of the expected plovers in Wisconsin.

American Golden-plover

American golden-plover in breeding plumage (Peter Pearsall Photo)
American Golden-plover in nonbreeding plumage (Alan Schmierer Photo)

The American Golden-plover is quite an impressive looking bird when in breeding plumage. They have a black underside, beautiful golden feathers on the back and wings, and a white marking that goes all the way from the bill to the shoulder. In nonbreeding plumage, American Golden-plovers are buffy colored with gold and brown speckled wings, back, and head. During certain times of the year these birds will be half way between breeding and nonbreeding plumage as they transition.


Like many shorebird species, American Golden-plovers are long distance migrants. They winter in Southeastern South America and fly all the way to their breeding areas in Alaska and the northern most parts of Canada.

Diet and Foraging Habits

American Golden-plovers feed mostly on invertebrates including insect larva and worms. They have also been known to eat some plant-based foods as well, including berries. This species hunts by running along the ground, periodically stopping to scan for food.

Where to Find this Bird

American Golden-plovers are most often found in the continental United States during fall migration. Some common places to find them are in agricultural fields, along lake shores, and at sod farms.

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover in breeding plumage (under the same moon Photo CC by 2.0)
Black-bellied Plover in nonbreeding plumage (Susan Young Photo)


Black-bellied Plovers are large as far as plovers go, similar in size to American Golden-plovers, but a little more stocky. They have black on their face, chest, and underside, but unlike American Golden-plovers they have a white under tail. They have white mottling on their back and wings as well as a white head and white stripe from the bill down to the shoulders.

In nonbreeding plumage, Black-bellied Plovers are much more sandy colored with darker shades on the wings, back, and head. In both breeding and nonbreeding plumage, this species shows black patches under the wing, visible in flight.


The Black-bellied Plover is extremely widespread across the globe with numerous sightings in every continent except for Antarctica. In North America, they summer in the most Northern parts of Canada and migrate south to the coasts of both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. During migration, they can be found inland on an annual basis.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Black-bellied Plovers eat a wide variety of invertebrates including insects, worms, urchins, crabs and much more. They will forage in farm fields and on mud flats in both fresh and salt water.

Where to Find this Bird

The best time to find Black-bellied Plovers is during winter and during fall migration. In winter, both the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts of the United States play host to the species. Look for them on beaches, mudflats, and break walls where they will be sitting on large rocks. During migration, sod farms, agricultural fields, and the shores of inland lakes are good places to search for Black-bellied Plovers.


Killdeer (Tom Koerner Photo)

The Killdeer is a widespread and recognizable bird in the plover family. They have a brown head, back, and wings, with a white underside. They have several black markings on their chest and head with two bands on their chest and two on the head with one of the stripes on the forehead and another looking something like a mustache. They have a rusty colored tail and a noticeable red eye.


Killdeer do not migrate as far as other plover species, and many of them live in the United States and parts of Western South America year round. The Killdeer that do migrate, go from Northern South America, Central America, and Southern Mexico, into the United States, and end up breeding in either the U.S. or Southern Canada.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Killdeer run along the ground as they forage for food. They consume mostly invertebrates such as grasshoppers, worms, snails, and insect larva. They will forage both near water as well as in drier open areas.

Where to Find this Bird

Killdeer are common throughout most of the United States in the summer and are one of the first birds to return north in spring. Look for them in open areas with a lot of flat land such as athletic fields, sod farms, plowed fields, and even gravel lots. Listen for their “kill-deer” call as the walk around or fly over.

Other Notes: Killdeer are known for doing a broken wing display to distract predators and eventually lead them away from their nests. This behavior can be seen often during the nesting season.

Piping Plover

Piping Plover in breeding plumage (Derek Sallmann Photo)
Piping Plover in nonbreeding plumage (Ryan Sallmann Photo)

Piping Plovers are relatively small plovers with a brownish gray back and head, with a white underside, and white stripe over the eye. In breeding plumage, this species has black on the forehead and black around the neck. Nonbreeding adults and immature birds lack these black markings.


Piping Plovers winter on the Southern Atlantic Coast as well as the Gulf Coast. In spring they move north to their breeding areas in the North-central United States, South-central Canada, the Northeastern United States, and some of the Great Lakes states.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Piping Plovers forage near the edge of the water searching for small invertebrates. They will forage in both marine and freshwater environments.

Where to Find this Bird

Piping Plovers breed in areas with sandy beaches and sparse vegetation. They show up along lake shores, ocean coastlines, and even rivers during migration.

In Wisconsin, there are islands that Piping Plovers breed on, but many of these areas are restricted. A few of them typically show up along Lake Michigan each year, but with more and more reports being hidden as people don’t want others disturbing the nests. As a result, they are becoming increasingly difficult to locate.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover in breeding plumage (Ryan Sallmann Photo)
Semipalmated Plover in nonbreeding plumage (Ryan Sallmann photo)

Semipalmated Plovers are on the small side for shorebirds and have a brown back and wings, and a white underside. In breeding plumage they have a black band on their upper chest as well as a black mask. In nonbreeding plumage, the black on this species is much less visible or gone altogether.


Semipalmated Plovers breed in the arctic and make their way south in fall. They winter along the ocean coasts of the United States, Mexico, and South America. They move through most regions of the United States in fall.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Semipalmated Plovers feed near the waters edge and occasionally wade in to very shallow water. They eat mostly aquatic invertebrates including worms and small crustaceans.

Where to Find this Bird

For people who live on the ocean coastlines, look for Semipalmated Plovers on beaches and mudflats in winter. For those that live in the interior of the country, the best time to see this species is during fall migration where they can be fund on inland lakes and sandbars.

In Wisconsin, Semipalmated Plovers are reliably found along Lake Michigan. I have always had success finding them along the beaches in Milwaukee.


Plovers are a fascinating and cute looking group of shorebirds that are certainly worth knowing more about. Getting acquainted with these five species can make it much easier to know what to expect 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.

Falcons of Wisconsin (5 Species to Know)

Falcons are the stealth fighter jets of the bird world. Recording some of the fastest speeds of all winged animals, these dynamic flyers are captivating to watch.

There are three species of falcons that can be found in Wisconsin on an annual basis, and two that are quite rare for the state. Here are the five species of falcons that can be found in the dairy state.

Falcons that can be Found Annually in Wisconsin (3 Species)

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

The American Kestrel is a small and colorful bird. Males have a rusty colored back as well as a lighter rusty colored underside. They have blue on their wings and the top of their head as well as black markings near their eye. Females are lighter overall with rusty orange barring on their wings, back, and tail.


American Kestrels live in both South America and North America. In North America, Kestrels are migratory and reside in Mexico in winter, then move into Canada during the breeding season. Throughout much of the United States, American Kestrels can be found year round.

Diet and Foraging Habits

American Kestrels eat small creatures including insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and rodents. In terms of the insects they eat, some of the most commonly consumed are grasshoppers, dragonflies, and cicadas.

Where to Find this Bird

American Kestrels are a common sight along roadsides and in open fields. They can be seen on telephone poles and wires in addition to perched on dead trees and other structures in areas with few trees. Other places Kestrels can be found are urban parks, pastures, and farm fields.


Merlin (Bill Thompson photo)

Merlins are very small members of the falcon family looking similar in size to a Mourning Dove. They have a blueish gray to black back, wings, and head, and a buffy to brown streaked underside. Merlins can differ in color based on region but always maintain a somewhat similar appearance. Most of the time they will have a white eye brow stripe.


Merlins winter in Northern South America, Central America, Mexico, the Southeastern United States, and most of the Western United States. In spring they migrate north ending up in only the most Northern parts of the U.S. and much of Canada and Alaska. There is an area from the Northwestern part of the United States to the Southwestern part of Alaska where Merlins live year round. Some individuals stay all winter in Northern states as well.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Merlins primarily eat small birds such as waxwings, sparrows, and even shorebirds. In addition to birds, they also eat insects and rodents.

Where to Find this Bird

Merlins can be tricky to find as encountering one typically seems like a matter of luck. They can be found in wooded areas as well as in open areas where they will be surveying for food. Sometimes the easiest way to see them is in flight when they will be moving at high speeds.

Personal Experience: It seems like if I ever go out intentionally trying to find Merlins there aren’t any around. Each year I typically find one by chance while out birding. It seems that even though they aren’t necessarily supposed to winter in the northern U.S. that is when I see them most.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon (Betsy Matsubara Photo – CC by 2.0)

Peregrine Falcons are iconic birds with a dark back, wings, head, and neck. They have a light underside with dark barring and noticeable bright yellow legs. This species has interesting facial markings that some people refer to as “sideburns” but is essentially dark coloration coming down below the eye onto the cheeks of the bird.


The Peregrine Falcon’s range in North America is complicated with a general pattern of wintering in the Southeastern United States and Mexico, summering in Northern Canada, and migrating throughout the rest of the continent. However, there are many places in the continental United States that Peregrine Falcons breed in during summer (such as along Lake Superior) and live year round (such as most of the Pacific Coast, and around the Great Lakes).

This species not only lives in North America, but every other continent as well with the exception of Antarctica.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Peregrine Falcons are the fastest fliers in the entire animal kingdom reaching normal speeds of around 70 miles per hour and a diving speed of around 200 miles per hour. They use this incredible speed to hunt medium sized birds such as doves and ducks, but they have been observed taking on an extremely wide array of different bird species. Peregrine Falcons will also eat fish, and mammals.

Where to Find this Bird

Peregrine Falcons have adapted well to human habitation and use skyscrapers as nesting sites. In more wild areas they will use cliffs as nest sites. Peregrine Falcons can be reliable sights in places where people have placed nest boxes specifically for the species to breed in. Often times these places have corresponding nest cams.

In Wisconsin, some of the best places to find Peregrine Falcons are around Lake Michigan including Milwaukee and Port Washington where they typically nest annually.

Falcons that are Rare in Wisconsin (2 Species)

Gyrfalcon (Rare)

Gyrfalcon (dfaulder Photo – CC by 2.0)

Gyrfalcons come in two different color morphs. Living in the high arctic is the white morph which essentially looks like someone took the look of a Snowy Owl and put it on a large falcon. They are pure white with black markings on their wings. The gray morph typically lives farther south and has a gray back and head with dark barring on the underside. They have dark teardrop markings underneath the eye.


Gyrfalcons breed in the arctic with some migrating into the Northern United States to spend the winter. There is a population that lives in mid to Northern Canada and Alaska that most likely stay in the same area year round.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Gyrfalcons feed mostly on medium sized birds such as ptarmigans and seabirds. They will also eat mammals such as lemmings and typically dive onto prey from above.

Where to Find this Bird

Gyrfalcons are most typically found in the continental United States in winter. They like open spaces such as tundras and coast lines where they can survey for prey.

In Wisconsin, this species is quite rare and seems to show up even less often than it used to. The city of Superior has traditionally been a place these birds turn up, but it has been a few years since a reliable individual was reported.

Prairie Falcon (Rare)

Prairie Falcon (Charles Gates Photo – CC by 2.0)

Prairie Falcons have a light brown back, wings, and head with a white underside barred with brown. They have a different facial pattern than the Peregrine Falcon with a brown teardrop marking below the eye that contrasts the pure white of the cheeks and chin.


Prairie Falcons are birds of the Western United States, living year round in most states west of Minnesota and Louisiana year round. They also live in parts of Mexico and Southwestern Canada year round. In winter, some individuals move east into more of the Great Plains states.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Prairie Falcons eat many different small mammals in addition to insects and birds. Like most falcons, they have quite a varied diet in terms of the bird species they eat.

Where to Find this Bird

True to their name, Prairie Falcons live in open spaces such as grasslands, open fields, tundra, and farmland. They nest in places with bluffs and cliffs but often are most easily seen hunting. Prairie Falcons are often on the move and cruise the open spaces looking for food. They can also sometimes be seen perched on branches or telephone poles.

In Wisconsin, Prairie Falcons are quite rare and have only showed up a few times in the past ten years. Even so, it is worth keeping an eye out for them in places with few trees.


Falcons are always entertaining to see, and knowing which ones to expect in the state can be a key part of correctly identifying the bird you are seeing.

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ID Tips: Ivory-billed Woodpecker vs. Pileated Woodpecker

One of the most controversial topics in birding is whether the Ivory-billed Woodpecker still exists, or if it is extinct. It is/or was the largest species of woodpecker north of Mexico, and the 3rd largest in the world. The last universally accepted sighting was around the 1940s when a team from Cornell took video, photographed and recorded audio from a nesting pair of Ivory-bills. However, there have been alleged reports of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers since then, including audio recordings and some video evidence that is left up to the interpretation of the viewer to decide what it is. Many of these reported sightings are actually of the similar looking and common Pileated Woodpecker, or other woodpecker species. Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are thought to live or have lived in very specific habitats the Southern United States and Cuba, possibly only in Virgin Bottomland Hardwood forests in the US, although some argue that they have could also live in other habitats. Either way, if you’re out searching for Ivory-bills or just want to know how to tell them apart from the similar Pileated Woodpecker, here are the differences between the two species. 

Both Pileated and Ivory-billed Woodpecker males have a red crest, white lines on their neck, and black and white on their wings. A male Ivory-billed Woodpecker would have a much more noticeable Ivory-colored bill, and a line on the neck extending down the back on both sides. The  Pileated would also have multiple white lines near their eye compared to the single line near the eye of the Ivory-bill. Additionally Ivory-billed Woodpeckers would have a white triangle visible on the lower back, from the folded wings, which would be black on the Pileated. I’ve heard this referred to as the Pileated looking like it’s wearing a Black backpack and the Ivory-billed looking like it’s wearing a white backpack. As far as size, an Ivory-billed Woodpecker would also be larger than a Pileated Woodpecker. A female Ivory-billed woodpecker would have the same color pattern as the male except with an all black crest that may be recurved, such as Cindy Lou who’s hair. A female Pileated will still have some red on their crest.

In flight, when the wings are viewed from below, the Pileated will have more white visible on the leading edge of the wing where on an Ivory-billed Woodpecker it would be on the leading and trailing edge of the wing, appearing more white overall. When the open wings are viewed from above, the Pileated will have crescents of white in the middle of the wing, while the Ivory-billed will have white visible on the trailing edge of the wing. It is also thought that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers would have faster wingbeats compared to a Pileated Woodpecker and make faster swooping motions to land on the trunks of trees.

Another bird that could be mistaken for an Ivory-billed Woodpecker is the Red-headed Woodpecker because it also appears to have a white backpack and white on the trailing edge of its wings, however they would have an all Red head and be much smaller than an Ivory-billed Woodpecker would be, unless the birds is a juvenile, which may have less red on its head. 

Red-headed Woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus showing “white backpack” on lower wings and red head.

The calls of both Ivory-billed and Pileated Woodpeckers are also very different, with Ivory-billed Woodpecker making what are called “Kent” calls, and doing double knocks as opposed to the Pileated Woodpecker’s call and rapid drumming. I’ve heard people say that other birds such as Blue Jays could mimic the sounds of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers but I have not yet personally heard one doing so. 

One of the more advanced identification differences between Ivory-billed Woodpeckers and Pileated Woodpeckers is that because the birds are members of different genus’ they perch on a tree trunk differently. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is in the Campephalus genus, which means due to their larger size their “ankle will appear to rest on the tree, where in the Pileated it normally appears to be held more away from the tree. This can be seen in the below image of a Pale-billed Woodpecker from Costa Rica, which is also in the Campephalus genus. Seeing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker would likely look more similar to seeing a Pale-billed woodpecker as opposed to seeing a Pileated Woodpecker.  The neck of Campephalus woodpeckers may also seem linger and more thin, compared to the thicker and stubbier looking neck of a Pileated Woodpecker.

Pale-billed Woodpecker Campephilus guatemalensis in Costa Rica showing “ankle” appearing closer towards tree trunk and long, thin neck.

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers have reportedly been seen in the last 40 years in the Big Woods of Arkansas, the Pearl River in Louisiana, the Choctawhatchee River in Florida, and more. This is and would not likely be a bird you would see at your bird feeder or in urban areas. Please do you research before claiming you have seen or heard one in unlikely habitats. With that being said you are always welcome to send us possible images, videos, or sound recordings of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers to Please  be sure to rule out all other common species first though. 

Learn all about how to identify Ivory-billed Woodpeckers compared to Pileated Woodpeckers in video form

Common Questions About Eastern Towhees Answered

The Eastern Towhee is a large member of the sparrow family at home in forests and edge habitats of the eastern United States. They have a black back and head, white underside, orangey sides, and additional white markings on their tail and wings.

Where do you find Eastern Towhees?

Eastern Towhees can be found in a variety of habitats in the United States (typically with thick underbrush). Some of these habitats include but are not limited to deciduous woods, coniferous woods, scrubland, overgrown fields, and backyards. Eastern Towhees reside in the eastern half of the United States living in teh southeast year round and moving to other parts of the country in summer and winter. They are typically not found farther west than Texas and the Dakotas.

Do Eastern Towhees migrate?

Eastern Towhees migrate in a similar fashion to most species in the United States spending winter in the southeastern United States from southern Texas to southern Florida. During spring, this species moves into the northern half of the United States and some of the most southern parts of Canada.

Eastern Towhee
Eastern Towhee in woods

Are Eastern Towhees rare or common?

In their expected range, Eastern Towhees are fairly common and can readily be found in the proper habitat. These birds are generally numerous and are of a low conservation concern. However, in some parts of the country, Eastern Towhees may be considered uncommon or rare.

What is the difference between an Eastern Towhee and a Rufous-sided Towhee?

Eastern Towhees were at one point in time lumped together with their western counterpart, the Spotted Towhee. The species was known as the “Rufous-sided Towhee.” Eventually, the Rufous-sided Towhee was separated into two distinct species. Some people still colloquially refer to both the Spotted Towhee and the Eastern Towhee as “Rufous-sided Towhees.”

What do Eastern Towhees eat?

Eastern Towhees have an extremely varied diet consisting of a staggering array of food items from seeds, to fruit, to insects, to buds and flowers. This species will feed at bird feeders, typically opting to forage along the ground rather than perching on the bird feeder itself.

Eastern Towhee
Eastern Towhee side profile

How do you attract Eastern Towhees to your yard?

Eastern Towhees will come to yards with habitat that makes them feel safe and comfortable. This would include plenty of ground cover in addition to a reliable food source. Planting thickets, shrubs, and trees near a feeding station will create an inviting oasis for Towhees and if this area is in their native range, the odds of a Towhee coming to visit are fairly high.

What does it mean when you see a Towhee?

Some cultures believe that Eastern Towhees are symbolic of good luck coming in the future. They are also seen as a guide of sorts. However, this belief does not seem to have permeated popular culture the same way that similar beliefs have surrounding other species such as bluebirds and cardinals.

How long do Eastern Towhees live?

Eastern Towhees lifespans will vary depending on location and habitat. The oldest individual of this species on record was approximately 9 years old.

What do Eastern Towhees sound like?

Eastern Towhee Calling

The Eastern Towhee can be identified by the distinctive sounds they make. The song of the Eastern Towhee sounds like “drink-your-tea” with the “tea” portion being a trill. This song can be heard in the video above. The call of the Eastern Towhee sounds like a brisk “tow-hee” or “chew-wee.”

What is special about Eastern Towhees?

Overall, the Eastern Towhee is unique for a variety of reasons. Among sparrows, it is on the larger side and its coloration is unlike any other birds of its kind with the exception of the Spotted Towhee (which was once lumped together with the Eastern as a singular species). They can be incredibly secretive and reluctant to leave their hiding places, but can sometimes be very conspicuous if they are in the right mood.

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The 5 Best Places to Go Birding in Wisconsin

Ah Wisconsin, famous for cheese, beer, cows, and well, more cheese. While at first glance, Wisconsin may seem like any other Midwestern state, after a closer look, some unique features of this state become evident. With landscapes carved by glaciers, a great lake to its east and a major migratory flyway overhead, Wisconsin has some incredible places for birding. Whether you are a resident or just passing through, there are definitely some must visit places in the dairy state. Here are the top 5 places to go birding in Wisconsin. 

5. Crex Meadows

LeConte's Sparrow
LeConte’s Sparrow

Sitting at number 5 in our countdown is Crex Meadows. Situated at the top of the state in Burnett County, this 30,000 acre wildlife management area is home to over a thousand species of plants and animals. Crex Meadows features marshes, forests, and Pine Barrens. The Pine Barrens, which are a large sandy area of plains left behind by the laurentide ice sheet during North Americas last glacial period and are found almost nowhere else in the state. In fact, Crex is the largest remaining section of this globally endangered ecosystem in the world. Each year, Crex meadows holds a variety of rare species including Yellow Rails, LeConte’s Sparrows, Red-necked Grebes and Sharp-tailed Grouse in addition to many other vagrant species that have been seen over the years. For anyone looking to bird during spring migration, this is a great place to take in the sights and sounds of spring.

4. Wisconsin Point

At number 4 is another northern hotspot: Wisconsin Point. Located in Douglas county, Wisconsin Point is the worlds largest freshwater bay mouth sand bar and juts out into Lake Superior creating a landing zone for rare migrant birds. Each fall, the beaches of Wisconsin Point play host to Jaeger Fest, a field trip type event in which area birders gather to watch for Jaegers moving South. In addition to Jaegers, other rare species also make an appearance including Sabine’s Gulls, Harris’ Sparrows and many more. Because Wisconsin point is so far north and on Lake Superior, it is a productive birding location in any season but particularly during migration in spring and fall.

3. Milwaukee Lake Front


The largest city in the state cracks the list at number 3. With high volumes of birders and Lake Michigan crashing into its shorelines, tons of interesting birds are reported in the cream city. In winter, sea ducks such as scoters make their appearance along with winter gulls. In spring, the warblers and other passerines flood the parks and natural areas much to the delight of local birders. In fall, shorebirds such as piping plovers and ruddy turnstones gather on the rocks along the lake and on the sandy beaches. While the entire eastern lakeshore is a great place to bird, all the way from Door County to Kenosha, the number of reports coming from Milwaukee gives it a boost over other cities along Lake Michigan. For anyone coming as a tourist to the city, ebird reports give a great indication of which areas are the most fruitful.

2. Wyalusing State Park

Birding Wyalusing State Park

Located in the most southwest corner of the state, Wyalusing State Park ranks number 2 on our list. With some incredible overviews of the Mississippi river and plenty of forest and bluffs to attract almost any migratory bird species that travels through the center of the state, Wyalusing is a must visit for birders in spring. Many rare species breed at Wyalusing including Cerulean Warblers, Kentucky Warblers, Yellow-throated Warblers and Prothonotary Warblers as well as occasional Bell’s Vireos and Yellow-breasted Chats. Even for non birders, Wyalusing is an attractive place to camp as the areas natural beauty is truly spectacular

1. Horicon Marsh

Whooping Cranes
Whooping Cranes

At number one in our countdown is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States: Horicon Marsh. Widely regarded as a premier birding destination in the Midwest, Horicon Marsh has been formally recognized as a wetland of international importance. Featuring an auto tour, roads that lead into the marsh, and multiple visitor centers, the 32,000 acre marsh is known for its shorebird habitat and migratory waterfowl. Some of the notable species found in Horicon Marsh are Black Terns, Whooping Cranes, Black-necked Stilts and King Rails. Other rare and vagrant species also turn up there from time to time including snowy and cattle egrets, Ibis species, Ruff, and Godwits. Birders and nature lovers alike make trips from not only all over the country but all over the world to enjoy the wildlife at Horicon Marsh. No other location in the state has quite the same pull as Horicon Marsh, which is why it finds itself at number 1 on our list of the top 5 places to go birding in Wisconsin.

Are there any places that you think belong on this list? Do you agree or disagree with the order? Leave a like and a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe for more Badgerland Birding content.