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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.

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

Geese of North America (14 Species)

Geese can be loud, but also beautiful birds that can be found throughout North America. Since there are only a handful of species that call North America home, geese can be a good group to start with if you’re just beginning to learn bird identification. Both males and females of these species look the same as far as plumage, and they do not have different colorations in different seasons.

The geese species below are grouped by those that breed in the United States, those that are vagrants (they occasionally show up), and finally, those that are domesticated escaped birds that can sometimes be found in parks or other urban areas.

Geese that Breed in North America (8 Species)

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Adult Canada Geese are large birds with a black head and neck, white cheek, brown back and sides, black feet and legs, with a white stomach and rump. They are larger, have a longer neck, and a longer bill than the closely related Cackling Goose. It’s worth noting that there are many different subspecies of Canada Geese that can vary slightly in size and appearance.


Common year-round throughout much of North America, the Canada Goose migrates south in the winter and north throughout the Northern U.S., Canada and Alaska in the summer. Once seen as a majestic migratory bird, many Canada Geese have spread to urban environments and can be seen hissing at those that get too close to them or their young.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

During spring, Canada Geese feed mostly on grasses, and during the fall and winter, they eat mostly seeds and berries.

Where to Find this Bird

Look for Canada Geese near water, in open or grassy fields often in large flocks. They can also be found in and near urban ponds. Look for them flying overhead making the classic goose “honk” and flying in a “V” formation.

Listen to the Canada Goose Call – Jonathan Jongsma (CC by 3.0)
A flock of birds illustrating the “V” formation flight pattern (Mussi Katz photo)

Cackling Goose

Cackling Goose (front) with Canada Goose (behind)

Adult Cackling Geese look very similar to Canada Geese, but with some key identification differences. They have similar color patterns with a black head and neck, white cheek, brown back and sides, black feet and legs, with a white stomach and rump, however they are smaller (about Mallard duck sized) with a stubbier neck, steep forehead, and smaller, more triangular shaped bill. They will often flock with Canada Geese, along with other geese species. These flocks can be extremely large during migration.

Click here to get more information on how to differentiate Cackling Geese from Canada Geese.


The Cackling Goose spends winter in the central U.S. and Central America, with some populations near the East and West coasts. Their migratory route spans the central U.S. and west coast, and they migrate to northern North America to breed.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Cackling Geese feed mostly on plants and plant material such as grasses, sedges, seeds, and berries.

Where to Find this Bird

Look for Cackling Geese near water, in open or grassy fields, and in mixed flocks. Also look for them flying overhead with other goose species, and keep an eye out for noticeable smaller birds, compared to Canada Geese.

Snow Goose

Snow Geese (2 blue morph left and 1 white morph, right) (Bill Grossmeyer photo)
Blue morph Snow Goose (Bill Grossmeyer photo)

Snow Geese are majestic birds that come in different color morphs. The adult white morph Snow Goose has an all white body, black wingtips, and a pinkish-orange bill with a black “grin patch”. A “grin patch” is a visible space between the upper and lower mandible of the bird seen when the bird’s bill is closed. A “blue morph” Snow Goose is the same size as the white morph with the same bill color, however the body is dark in coloration with variable amounts of white and darker colors along with a white head.


Snow Geese breed in northern North America and migrate through much of North America. They winter in select areas of the United States and Central America, often in large flocks.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Snow Geese are vegetarians that feed on grasses, shrubs, seeds, berries and more. Sometimes they will eat entire plants.

Where to Find this Bird

Snow Geese can be found in large flocks, mixed in with Ross’s Geese, Canada geese, and Cackling Geese. They are often seen in or near water, or in fields. Keep an eye out for mixed flocks flying overhead in a “V” formation.

Ross’s Goose

Ross’s Goose (Bill Grossmeyer photo)

Along with Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese also have multiple color morphs. Adult white morph Ross’s Geese have an all white body, black wingtips, and a pinkish-orange bill with a small or absent “grin patch”. A blue morph Ross’s Goose will be the same size as the white morph with the same bill color, however the body will be dark in coloration with variable amounts of white and darker colors along with a white head. A true blue morph Ross’s Goose is very rare, and many are actually hybrid Snow and Ross’s Geese. Keep on the lookout for signs of hybridization such as a bird with a small, triangular bill but a large, dark grin patch. Overall, Ross’s Geese will be smaller than Snow Geese with a smaller, triangular bill that has a gray-blue base, and a stubbier neck.


Ross’s Geese breed in northern North America in colonies and migrate through much of central and western North America. They winter in select areas of the United States and Central America, often in large flocks.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Ross’s Geese are vegetarians that feed on grasses, shrubs, seeds, berries and more. Sometimes they will eat entire plants.

Where to Find this Bird

Ross’s Geese can be found in large flocks, mixed in with Snow Geese, Canada, and Cackling Geese. They are often seen in or near water, or in fields. Keep an eye out for mixed flocks flying overhead in a “V” formation.

Greater White-fronted Goose

Greater White-fronted Goose (Bill Grossmeyer photo)

Adult Greater White-fronted Geese (sometimes called Speckled Geese, or Speckle-belly Geese) are brown in color with a white rump, white stripe on their side, white forehead, black spots on their stomach and a bright pinkish-orange bill and legs. They can look similar to Greylag Geese, which are a domesticated species that can sometimes be seen in urban parks, but Greylag Geese will have a thicker bill, be larger and more stout, and have a striped neck.


Greater White-fronted Geese breed in northern North America in colonies, and on the Alaskan tundra, and migrate through much of central and western North America. They winter in select areas of the western and southern United States and central America, often in large, mixed flocks.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Greater White-fronted Geese feed mostly on plant material such as grasses, berries, sedges, emergent vegetation, and tubers.

Where to Find this Bird

Greater White-fronted Geese can be found in large flocks, mixed in with Ross’s, Snow, Canada, and Cackling Geese. They are often seen in or near water, or in fields. Keep an eye out for mixed flocks flying overhead in a “V” formation.

Check out this video to see all 5 Goose species in their natural habitats

Nene (Hawaiian Goose)

Nene, or Hawaiian Goose (USDA)

The Nene, or Hawaiian Goose is a medium sized bird that is endangered, and endemic to Hawaii . They are the only surviving endemic Hawaiian island Goose. Adults have a dark face, top of the head, and back of the neck with white or tan on both sides of the neck that is striped with black. The bill and feet are dark colored, and the body is blackish brown, white, and gray.


Nene are only native to the Hawaiian islands.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Nene are vegetarians and feed on plant material such as grasses and fruits.

Where to Find this Bird

The Nene can be found on the Hawaiian islands, often near water.

Emperor Goose

Emperor Goose (Lisa Hupp/USFWS Photo)

The Emperor Goose is a small goose species with a small pink bill, orange legs, white head that is sometimes stained orange, and a gray, brown, white, and black streaked body, with white tail feathers.


In North America, Emperor Geese are found in Alaska and the western coasts of Canada, but are sometimes also seen on the west coast of the United States.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Emperor Geese feed mostly on aquatic invertebrates such as mussels, as well as plant material such as sedges and berries.

Where to Find this Bird

In their native range in North America Emperor Geese can be found in winter and early spring, often in or around saltmarshes, or other bodies of water.



The Brant is a medium-sized goose that is smaller than a Canada Goose, but larger than a Mallard duck. They have a black head, stubby black bill, black neck and upper chest, with a brown and white body, white rump, and black wingtips. They have a characteristic white mark on their neck that can be variable in size and shape.


Brants normally migrate through parts of the western and northeastern United States and parts of Canada, with some wintering populations on the east coast and in Alaska. They nest in the arctic wetlands of northern North America.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Brants feed mostly on vegetation such as grasses, sedges, and aquatic plants. In the winter, they eat mainly eelgrass and algae, although in some areas they will also eat other grasses if eelgrass is not available.

Where to Find this Bird

The Brant is rare in most midwestern states. Keep an eye out for this bird in flocks of other goose species, normally found near water or in open grassy areas or farm fields.

Watch us search for a Brant in Wisconsin, along with another rare bird, the Spotted Towhee

Geese that do not Breed in North America but Show Up on Occasion (2 Species)

Barnacle Goose (Rare)

Barnacle Goose (Photo by Caleb Putnam)

The Barnacle Goose can be identified by its white face, black top of the head and neck, gray stomach, and gray, white, and black back.


Barnacle Geese breed in the arctic North Atlantic islands. They are not native to the United States but sometimes they show up as vagrants, especially in the northeastern U.S. and parts of Canada. Additionally, sometimes domesticated birds escape and are seen, therefore there should be some deliberation in considering whether the bird is wild or not.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Barnacle Geese feed mostly on vegetation such as grasses and aquatic plants.

Find this Bird

Barnacle Geese are extremely rare in North America. Keep an eye out for this bird in flocks of other goose species, normally found near water or in open grassy areas and farm fields.

Pink-footed Goose (Rare)

Pink-footed Goose (Alan Shearman photo, CC by 2.0)

The Pink-footed Goose can be identified by its brown head and tan neck, gray-brown back, white side stripe, buff and white chest, white rump, pink feet, and stubby bill.


Pink-footed Geese are not native to the United States but they sometimes stray into Eastern North America. When they do, they are an extreme rarity.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Pink-footed Geese feed mostly on vegetation such as grasses and sedges.

Find this Bird

Pink-footed Geese are extremely rare in North America. Keep an eye out for this bird in flocks of other goose species, normally found near water or in open grassy areas and farm fields.

Domestic Geese (4 Species)

These are birds that are not vagrant to North America but are likely escaped pets that may live year round in public spaces.

Greylag Goose (Domestic)

Domestic Greylag Goose

Greylag Geese are brown and white with pinkish orange feet and bill. They look similar to Greater White-fronted Geese but are larger, with a striped neck, and a more stout body. Graylag Geese also lack the prominent white forehead seen on the Greater White-fronted Goose.


Greylag Geese are not native to North America, however some domesticated individuals have ended up at parks or urban ponds. They are normally non-migratory and will sometimes even beg for food.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Greylag Geese feed mostly on grasses and plant material.

Egyptian Goose (Domestic)

Domestic Egyptian Goose (Alan Schmierer photo)

Egyptian Geese are brown, white, and gray with pinkish feet and a spectacled appearance.


Egyptian Geese are not native to North America, however some domesticated individuals have ended up at parks or urban ponds. They are normally non-migratory and will sometimes even beg for food. Egyptian Geese are native to central and southern Africa.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Egyptian Geese feed mostly on grasses and other plant material such as aquatic vegetation.

Find this Bird

Domesticated Egyptian Geese are not “countable” from a listing perspective in the United States, but can be an interesting bird to see in parks or urban ponds.

Swan Goose (Domestic)

Domestic Swan Geese (Wildlife Terry photo)
Domestic Swan Goose (Chinese White Goose Variety) (Wildlife Terry photo)

Swan Geese have a brown back, tan stomach, white stripe down their sides, brown top of head extending down the top of the neck, white and tan side of their neck, pinkish feet, and a black bill. Some birds may also have a knob on their forehead. Swan Geese have also been bred to be all white, and may also be referred to as “Chinese White Geese”.


Swan Geese are not native to North America, however some domesticated individuals have ended up at parks or urban ponds. They are normally non-migratory and will sometimes even beg for food. Swan Geese are native to Asia.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Swan Geese are thought to be herbivorous and feed mostly on grasses and other plant material such as aquatic vegetation.

Find this Bird

Domesticated Swan Geese are not “countable” from a listing perspective in the United States, but can be an interesting bird to see in parks or urban ponds. Sometimes they associate with domestic Greylag Geese.

Bar-headed Goose (Domestic)

Bar-headed Goose (Daniel Engelvin photo)

The Bar-headed Goose is quite striking, with its white head and neck strips, brown throat, gray back, white rump and chest, with tow black lines on its head, and an orange bill.


Bar-headed Geese are not native to North America, however some domesticated individuals have ended up at parks or urban ponds. They are normally non-migratory and will sometimes even beg for food. Bar-headed Geese are native to East and South Asia.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Bar-headed Geese are mostly herbivorous and feed mostly on grasses, seeds, tubers, and other plant material such as aquatic vegetation.

Find this Bird

Domesticated Bar-headed Geese are not “countable” from a listing perspective in the United States, but can be an interesting bird to see in parks or urban ponds.

Which of these species have you seen? Leave a comment below and thanks for reading!

5 Common Backyard Birds you DON’T want at your bird feeder

Bird feeding is an absolutely massive industry in the United States, and why wouldn’t it be? The hobby of feeding birds offers people the chance to get up close looks at a wide variety of species ranging from cute to extremely bright. While there are plenty of amazing birds to play host to, there are also some that you really don’t want making themselves at home at your bird feeder. Whther it’s due to their gregarious nature, or the way they bully other birds, here are 5 birds you don’t want visiting your bird feeder. 

Before we get started, keep in mind that this is a subjective list and some people may adore these particular species and welcome them to their yard and at their bird feeders. We aren’t saying any of these birds are necessarily bad, but rather that they may be problematic for other species in the yard.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

Kicking off the countdown is a large blackbird species wide spread across much of the United States: the Common Grackle. Common Grackles live in Eastern North America with their summer range expanding north into Canada and west as far as Idaho. They are actually quite sleek in appearance with a long tail, jet black body,  iridescent head, and bright yellow eye. While they are a native species and therefor not a huge problem from an invasive standpoint, they can still pose problems due to the way they behave around the feeders. With a larger size than most other backyard birds, Common Grackles tend to take over and can become bullies. Additionally, they tend to flock with other black bird species, meaning there will probably be an all out onslaught of activity at the feeder when they are around, thus preventing other birds from getting seeds. 

European Starling

European Starling

The first invasive species on our list; European Starlings are native to Europe and Asia but were released into the united states, eventually spreading across the country. To be fair, starlings are actually quite beautiful birds with many different colors shining from their feathers, but the problem is that where there is one, many are sure to follow as these flocking birds gather together in large groups. If starlings find a bird feeder, they often dominate the space, and prevent other more timid bird species from approaching. Additionally, European Starlings are cavity nesters, and will occupy bird houses and other suitable nesting sites, preventing native species from using them. In sum, European Starlings can have a negative impact on the biodiversity of a yard, but they aren’t nearly as destructive as other species on this list.

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Where there is an abundance of prey items, there are sure to be predators. One of the biggest natural threats to backyard birds are raptors such as Cooper’s Hawks. Other species that could occupy a spot on the list for a similar reason are Sharp-shinned Hawks and Merlins. Out of these birds, the Cooper’s Hawks gets the nod due to the fact that their range encompasses most of North America, and because they seem to often be found loitering around bird feeders. These large yet streamlined raptors feed mostly on medium sized birds such as Robins, Mourning Doves, and Woodpeckers, but have been known to catch smaller birds as well. Cooper’s Hawks are native to North America and are an important part of the ecosystem, but it’s understandable why feeder watches don’t want the birds they care for and become familiar with killed by anything, even another bird.  These predators are extremely good at what they do, landing them a spot at number three on the list, but keep in mind that their presence could actually be a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

Although Brown-headed Cowbirds are native to North America and are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, most people dislike them because they are brood parasites. This means that rather than raising their own young, they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. The young often outcompete or kill the other nestlings and can sometimes be seen being fed by their different species parents. Cowbirds often flock with other blackbirds and can show up in very large numbers, not only preventing other species from getting food but most likely also parasatizing their nests. It’s also worth noting that the Brown-headed Cowbird is extremely wide spread in the United States, meaning that people in almost every state have most likely encountered them at some point. The fact that Brown-headed Cowbirds being in a yard means that other species have less of a chance to raise young makes them one of the most despised species by backyard bird lovers, and puts them at number two on our list. 

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

Coming in at number one is a species that anyone living in a city is probably familiar with: the House Sparrow. Some people enjoy having House Sparrows at their feeders, and they are pretty humorous to watch with their constant bickering. However, there are even more people who completely detest them. The reason for this is because much like the European Starling, House Sparrows are not originally native to North America and spread like wildfire across the country upon their release into the New World. Not only are they numerous, but they are also extremely territorial and aggressive, often outcompeting other species. In addition to their antics at bird feeders, House Sparrows have been known to kill cavity nesting birds such as Eastern Bluebirds, and anyone who has ever had to deal with them invading a bird house knows the horror that they can inflict on more passive species. If House Sparrows take up residence near a bird feeder, they are hard to get rid of and have posed major problems ever since they were first introduced to North America, earning them the title of the number one common backyard bird, that you don’t want visiting your bird feeder. 

Do you agree with our list? Are there species you would add or remove? Let us know in the comments below. Also, if you enjoyed this post, please like and subscribe as it helps our channel continue to grow. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you next time, on Badgerland Birding.

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 House Sparrow: How did they get here?

The House Sparrow is one of the most common birds in the United States. Its adaptability and hardiness make it abundant in places where other species don’t live. With a fierce attitude, this aggressive bird out-competes other species and is considered to be an ecological pest.

Much of the distain toward the House Sparrow stems from the fact that it was not originally native to North American, putting it at the top of the list of avian invasives. So where did the House Sparrow come from? And what do we do with it now that it’s here?

Before we look into the story of the House Sparrow let’s take a minute to understand it as a species. The House Sparrow is a stout bird with a round head and short bill. Males have a chestnut back, gray crown and underside, white cheeks and a black bib. Females are light brown with buff and brown striped backs and a buffy eye stripe. The House Sparrow’s native range is Europe, Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. They live in groups and can be found near humans as they take advantage of scraps left behind in cities. House Sparrows are extremely territorial cavity nesters that will attack other birds trying to nest in an area they inhabit.

Male House Sparrow

Now for the House Sparrows westward expansion: let’s go back to the year 1850. Millard Fillmore had just become president after Zachary Taylor died in office, the entire western half of the US was territories, and the fugitive slave act was passed by congress. This is pre-civil war America and in the midst of a migrant boom with over 30 million European immigrants making their way across the Atlantic between 1836 and 1914.

At this time in American history, a fascination arose for trading wildlife from one continent to another. Many wealthy individuals and societies on the east coast began dabbling in this hobby. One such organization  was the Brooklyn Institute in New York.

To know the story of the House Sparrow we have to know the institute’s director: Nicholas Pike. Pike cemented his spot in the story as the man responsible for the first House Sparrows brought to the United states when he had 8 pairs shipped over in 1850. The cited reason for the introduction? To control an infestation of insects (either canker worms or larva of the linden moth). A secondary reason was to bring a species to America that European immigrants would be used to and find pleasant. Yes, that’s right, pleasant. At this point in time, nobody knew of the negative consequences introducing a nonnative species could have on native wildlife. As a result, the importation of the initial birds was met with little resistance.

Female House Sparrow

In 1851 the first 16 birds were released. Here is where the story gets a bit murky. Pike is quoted as stating that the first 16 birds “did not thrive” upon their release. Some argue that this means all 16 birds perished. Others suggest this may just mean that they disappeared, perhaps dispersing and starting their lives as the first colonists to one day spread their species all across the new world.

In 1852, Pike was appointed Consul General to Portugal and sailed to Liverpool where he made a large order of songbirds including 50 pairs of House Sparrows. The birds were shipped over on the steamship Europa. Pike however was on his way to Portugal and was not present when the sparrows made it to America. 50 of these birds were released in the Narrows in 1852 and then another 50 were released at the Green-wood Cemetery Chapel a year later in 1853. The problem is that Pike did not witness the release of these birds, and his account is the only one to go off of as it pertains to the initial three releases. As a result it’s impossible to say which batch of released birds was the first to gain a foothold in the United States. But let’s pause for a second, because something important happened in 1854 that changed the landscape of world bird life.

Female House Sparrow

In 1854, half way around the world in Paris, the Société zoologique d’acclimatation was founded by French naturalist Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. The goal of this group was to bring in flora and fauna that could be useful for pest control and food sources. In America, copycat societies were starting to pop up as well., including one in New York.

Now, lets get to know another important  man in this story, Eugene Schieffelin. Schieffelin was a pharmacist and amateur ornithologist very interested in the importation of European bird species. He was a prominent member of the American Acclimatization Society and started by importing House Sparrows as pest control around his Madison Square home. Schieffelin was not only responsible for the release of many House Sparrows, but is almost single handedly responsible for the release of another invasive, the European starling. But that’s a story for another time, Anyway, Schieffelin certainly played a role in the propagation of the House Sparrow and along with other sister organizations such as the Cincinnati Acclimatization Society continued to release European Species into North America. Some other bird species released by these groups were Song Thrushes, Wagtails, and Skylarks, but the House Sparrow was one of the few that was able to succeed. Why?

For starters, the house sparrow is hardy and adaptable. They eat a wide variety of foods including grains, insects, and even fruits and berries. They are perfectly comfortable living alongside humans and take advantage of city structures to nest in. They are prolific breeders having multiple broods of usually over 3 chicks at a time. In addition, they nest earlier in the year than most migratory species, allowing them to establish nests before other species migrate back to compete for nest sites. To make life even easier for the House Sparrow, they lacked natural predators in North America, thus allowing them to multiply totally unchecked.

Male House Sparrow

In the following years house sparrows continued to be introduced by various organizations. Portland, Maine in 1854, Nova Scotia in 1856, New Haven in 1857, and Peacedale, RI in 1858. By 1870 House Sparrows could be found as far west as Texas and as far south as the Carolinas. In 1871 House Sparrows were introduced to San Francisco and Hawaii, they were in Salt Lake City in 1872, and established as a breeding bird in California by 1910.

In the late 1800’s people were beginning to notice the potential negative impact of the House Sparrows. In 1887 and 1895 Illinois and Michigan spent a total of 117,500 dollars on efforts to eradicate the species; the modern equivalent of about 2.2 million dollars. In 1898 the department of agriculture wrote an article labeling the House Sparrow “one of the worst avian pests”

So why are house sparrows bad for North America? The biggest reasons have to do with competition with native species. The House sparrow is particularly aggressive when it comes to nesting sites. They have been known to kill other cavity nesting birds including adults, juveniles, and eggs. Many bird lovers have nothing but disdain for the house sparrow, especially those who have ever had bird houses invaded by them.

Male and Female House Sparrows

So what are people doing about this invasive species? Right now, not much. The House sparrow is so well established that it would take a massive initiative to even make a dent in their population. In addition, it’s estimated that anything capable of wiping out house sparrows would also have immense negative effects on native species. For now, any efforts on removing house sparrows is focused on removing them from locations inhabited by sensitive species and are occurring on a small scale.  With a population of 540 million worldwide it would seem the house sparrow is not going anywhere anytime soon.

Are there any positives about House Sparrows living in the US? Well, they might eat some insects that are harmful to crops such as alfalfa, maybe.

The House Sparrow’s story is one of intrigue. This is the story of a hardy and aggressive bird coming to colonize a foreign land and stretching its reach east to west across the continent. It is a story of a misguided introduction effort in an attempt to bring some of the old world to the new. And it is a story of an unwanted human companion that has been with Americans even before the civil war started. Sure, many detest them, but that hasn’t deterred the house sparrow from making itself at home in the land of the free.

Bald Eagle: Back from the brink

As far as birds go, there is none more iconic in the United States than the bald eagle. Known as a symbol of freedom, grace, and perseverance, America’s national bird can be seen regularly in most parts of the country; but this wasn’t always the case. Not too long ago, the Bald Eagle was critically endangered and at serious risk of becoming extinct. This is the story of how this regal raptor came back from the brink.

What led to the Bald Eagle’s Decline?

In North America, eagles have always been associated with positive traits. So much so, that in 1782, the Bald Eagle was adopted as a National Symbol of the United States. Even with this bird being a national icon, at this time in history, there was a lot of misinformation about their habits and lifestyle. We now know that this species feeds mostly on fish and carrion, but at earlier eras there was a wide held belief that eagles were a threat to medium sized livestock and even children. As a result, many Bald Eagles were hunted by landowners fearful of losing animals to the large birds. In addition, much of the bald eagles natural prey was also on the decline due to hunting and habitat loss. However, hunting and habitat loss were not the only factors leading to the bald eagle’s decline.

Serious trouble came in the form of a new pesticide called DDT. After World War II, DDT was commonly used to eliminate insect pests such as mosquitos but caused a lot of collateral damage. The chemical would then wash into waterways, fouling entire waterways, including the things that lived in that water. This meant that fish and other animals that Bald Eagles feed on were not only scarcer due to hunting and habitat loss, but also contaminated with toxins. Eagles would consume the contaminated fish and absorb the DDT into their bodies. While DDT wasn’t fatal to the adult Eagles, it was the bird’s eggs that were most adversely effected. The ingestion and absorption of DDT by the adult birds led to the inability to produce strong eggs. As a result, many Bald Eagle eggs were crushed or cracked during incubation leading to a grave amount of unsuccessful broods.

Due to a combination of chemical poisoning, hunting, and habitat destruction, the Bald Eagle was quickly approaching the point of extinction. In 1963, there were a mere 487 breeding pairs left in the lower 48 states.

What led to the Bald Eagle’s comeback?

Recognizing that the Bald Eagle was losing its battle against extinction, the US government stepped in to try and aid in its plight. In 1972 DDT was banned in large part to its negative impact of wildlife (particularly birds), and in 1973 the Endangered Species Act was created. The endangered species prevented habitat destruction as well as the harassment or killing of any species deemed endangered. These steps in addition to reintroduction, nest monitoring projects, and water quality improvement put the Bald Eagle on a pathway to move out of the precarious place they were in as a species.

How is the Bald Eagle doing today?

In the following decades, the Bald Eagle’s numbers began climbing. In 1995 they were moved from the endangered species list and designated as threatened. Twelve years later The Bald Eagle was officially completely delisted on June 28th 2007. Now, over 70,000 pairs of Bald Eagles live in the lower 48 states and the species as a whole is listed as a species of “least concern.”

The Bald Eagle is one of America’s greatest conservation success stories. With a very stable population of this species in the wild today, this regal national symbol will continue to soar the skies of American for generations to come. Hopefully more success stories like the Bald Eagle will emerge in the ecological war against extinction, and we will get to discuss more birds that have come back from the brink

Birding The Milwaukee County Zoo

Last week, Derek and I went to one of the largest zoos in the Midwest: The Milwaukee County Zoo. The Milwaukee County Zoo has a wide range of animals from all across the globe, including a full aviary. On this day, in addition to the animals intended to be at the zoo, we were also focused on the birds that live in the more natural places in the zoo. These birds make their home in the wooded and open spaces between enclosures. 

As we walked into the building that serves as a threshold between the parking lot and the zoo, we heard our first bird of the day and one that is extremely common around humans: The House Sparrow. House Sparrows live in almost every corner of the zoo, feeding on scraps of food left behind by both people and animals. In the same area we also heard a House Finch and saw a Common Grackle. 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Moving toward the aviary, there was a flock of Flamingoes near a small pond. This pond is a fascinating part of the zoo because it contains both native and non native species. Flamingoes use the area to feed along with many Koi and native fish that call the pond home. In addition to these animals, there are also wild birds that make an appearance from time to time. 

While looking at the Flamingoes I noticed a bird come in for a landing near the water’s edge. It was a Green Heron! This was the first wild bird we’d seen so far that is not known for living near people. Across the path from where the Green Heron was, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird was visiting a nectar feeder, and in a tree overhead, a Red-bellied Woodpecker scanned the branches for a potential meal.

Green Heron

Walking the paths around the various buildings and exhibits takes zoo goers past a lot of deciduous forest. These areas were very good for native bird species. Several American Robins could be seen moving around in the underbrush and occasionally perching up in the trees. Other birds that we found in these areas were Red-eyed Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Eastern Wood Peewees. Since all three of these species have a habit of hanging out in the thick, leafy tree tops, we couldn’t get eyes on them nut heard their distinctive calls.

The last spot that proved to be good for wild birds was near Lake Evinrude close to the North American Animal enclosures. Hear, a small lake holds various native fish species, and water birds. On this day, we were able to find a Herring Gull, a Killdeer, several Ring-billed Gulls, and numerous Mallards. Around the corner there were bird feeders and a short board walk leading through the woods to the edge of the lake. Unfortunately, there were not any birds visiting the feeders. 

American Robin

Overall, I was able to tally 20 species of wild birds at the Milwaukee County Zoo .In my opinion, the best finds were Green Heron, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Eastern Wood Peewee, and Red-eyed Vireo. It was fun to be able to see native birds while also exploring the various other animal species at the zoo. It would be interesting to go bird the zoo again during peak migration to see how high of a total I could get. 

Birding Joyce WMA (Louisiana)

March 14th, 2021.

My friend Claire and I decided to go birding early Saturday morning on March 14th in Louisiana. We left early, since I wanted to look for a Barn Owl that had been seen flying in and out of a boat house near the Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station in Akers, LA. It was daylight savings time and we were tired from the change but got there just before sunrise. We walked around and heard a lot of bird activity but didn’t see any large shapes perched or flying. The spot was interesting. It was right off of the highway, over a train track and situated next to a channel. As we walked we noticed a few Spotted Gar swimming near the water’s edge, but didn’t see any sign of the Barn Owl. With the sun now up, we headed to our main spot for the day, Joyce WMA. There had been reports of Norther Parulas, Yellow-throated Warblers, and Winter Wrens, all of which I was excited to see. We pulled into the parking lot at Joyce and saw a sign about being “Bear Safe”. I’ve never seen a Louisiana Black Bear, but I’ve heard that they can occasionally be spotted. I definitely wasn’t expecting to see warnings about them though.

We got out of the car and immediately heard the zipper-like call of the Northern Parula, and located two in the bushes. Also present was a Gray Catbird.

Northern Parula.

We crossed train tracks and looked at the boardwalk, which is the main point of access at Joyce. It looked like something out of a book I read as a kid. The path faded into the cypress swamp and made us feel like we were venturing into the great unknown. I said to Claire “this is so cool”.

The boardwalk at Joyce WMA.

We scanned the lower branches of the trees for Green Herons, but didn’t see any. We traversed the walkway and spotted Great Egrets, Wood Ducks, Carolina Chickadees, and heard several Fish Crows calling from above. Suddenly, I saw two small shapes fly out from under the boardwalk. One seemed slightly smaller and more round than the other and I thought they both looked like Wrens (both House and Winter Wrens had been reported). I scanned the ground but neither reappeared. We continued on, enchanted by the environment and spotted a bright yellow blob to the left of us, a Prothonotary Warbler!

Prothonotary Warbler.

This was a bit of a surprise, but definitely a welcomed one. We eventually made it to the end of the boardwalk and saw a few Cricket Frogs and heard a calling Carolina Wren.

We decided to walk the boardwalk back and forth until we located all of our target species. On our first trip back we heard more Northern Parulas calling from above and we also heard a slightly different call. Tracking the call we were able to pick out a Yellow-throated Warbler flitting around, high up in the Spanish moss.

Yellow-throated Warbler. Screenshot from video.

After enjoying our brief views we met a lady named Christie who was looking to locate one of the Parulas. We pointed out the calls to her and she kept on down the trail to get some views. She mentioned that she saw a Wren earlier and had a photo. I took a look at it and it was the Winter Wren! She told us where she saw it (which was the spot where we saw the small birds earlier) and then she headed back down the boardwalk to look for the Parulas. While we staked out the Winter Wren spot we met Brittany, who was also birding, and turned out to be a graduate student as well, most interested in herpetology. We talked about birds and herps for a bit as we waited for the Wren to pop up. We decided to continue walking and found a small bird hopping around in the weeds. After a bit of searching it popped out and turned out to be a House Wren.

Close, but not what we were looking for. We stopped to talk and wait for a bit and eventually Brittany said “Hey, there’s a Wren”. I zoomed in on it and it was really scruffy, but sure enough, it was the Winter Wren! It was a little weird seeing it in a swamp, but the little brown ball of fluff seemed right at home.

Winter Wren.

We went down to the end of the boardwalk and spotted a Broad-banded Watersnake before calling it a day.

Later on, on Facebook I saw that Christie got some great Northern Parula pictures! Overall, it was an awesome day of birding, where we located all of our target species in a unique and enchanting location. It also made me excited for more spring migrants!


Epic day of Birding in early April

Early April is the time of year when some of the most interesting migrants start their journey north to their breeding grounds. Many of these birds make stops in Wisconsin along with some that don’t belong here at all. Such is the case of the Golden-crowned Sparrow that showed up at a residence in Calumet County about a week ago.

Initially, the hour and a half drive, combined with nice weather made me disinterested in chasing it since I wanted to enjoy the temperatures outside. However, after the state parks closed ,and with a lot of time on my hands due to COVID lockdown, I decided to make the trip along with Derek.

Golden-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow

When we arrived at the home the sparrow had been seen at, other birders were just leaving. The bird had been visiting on and off, seemingly showing up a few times per hour. The homeowners were nice enough to let us come up their driveway and wait for the bird to appear. While we waited, we saw several species flying through the yard and foraging including Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows, Hairy, Woodpeckers, Tree Swallows, Eastern Phoebes, Chipping Sparrows, and Red-winged Blackbirds. After ten minutes or so we noticed a larger sparrow in the thickets near the back of the yard. Even with just quick glimpses we could tell that it was in fact the Golden-crowned Sparrow. Just as quickly as it appeared it was out of sight. Minutes later, it reappeared near the bird feeder just 15 feet from where we were waiting. It only stayed for about 30 seconds before vanishing. Since the Golden-crowned Sparrow is such a rare visitor to our state, we stayed longer, hoping to get one more look. Eventfully, it popped up again and this time stayed for a number of minutes, giving us incredible views.

After getting our lifer Golden-crowned Sparrow, we decided to head to Horicon Marsh in search of some other rare birds. We started on Ledge Road where a Surf Scoter had been seen over the past few days. We quickly found the beautiful breeding plumage bird very close to the road. Surf Scoters can be found every year in Wisconsin, but usually in much larger bodies of water and most typically in the great lakes.

Surf Scoter
Surf Scoter

After viewing the Scoter we followed a hot tip on some Whooping Cranes near the auto tour board walk. I had only ever seen one Whooping Crane in my life and Derek had never seen one, so we were excited about the prospect of finding them. When we got to the boardwalk, a Yellow-rumped Warbler was greeted us. Further out, Blue-winged Teals and Gadwalls floated around in the marsh water. Then, I noticed what looked like a big, white blob to the south. When I saw the white blob put it’s long, elegant head and neck up, I knew immediately what it was. I alerted Derek and we enjoyed some excellent looks at these endangered birds.

Whooping Cranes
Whooping Cranes

As we were looking at the cranes, we got another tip that there was a Eurasian Wigeon seen near the visitor center. We rushed there next as the sky began to darken. When we arrived, there were tons of people there seemingly walking around aimlessly, just wanting to have something to do. While keeping our distance from them, we scoured the water in hopes of finding our third rare species of the day. We located a Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Green-winged Teal, pair of Ospreys, Great Blue Heron, and first of year Purple Martin. Sadly, the Eurasian Wigeon was nowhere to be seen. We did however find a hybrid Snow Goose/Canada Goose on our way out which was interesting.

Although we were a little bummed about missing the Eurasian Wigeon, we couldn’t be too upset considering we had an excellent birding day with some great weather while we were out.