With warmer temperatures finally arriving in much of Wisconsin, migrating birds are starting to arrive en masse, with bird-watching opportunities and events expected to peak in May.
Dozens of communities, nature centers and organizations hold festivals to celebrate the return of these colorful, diverse migrants, some of which will have travelled thousands of miles to reach Wisconsin, state bird experts say.
“May is the most spectacular month of the year for bird lovers in Wisconsin,” says Andy Paulios, a Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
“Migrants from central and south America pour into the state during this month, making for fantastic birding in local parks, natural areas and even your backyard!”
When it comes to birds, Wisconsin is truly “flyover” land: the state sits astride a major migration pathway, allowing birders easy access to one of the most diverse collections of bird life in the United States, says Kim Grveles, coordinator of the Wisconsin Stopover Initiative for DNR. More than 400 species have been recorded in the state.
The vast majority of birds – both species and numbers – are migratory; there are some permanent residents, like chickadees, cardinals and turkeys. The migrants fall into two categories — short distance migrants that breed here and spend the winter somewhere in North America, often just a few hundred miles south. Red-winged blackbirds, eastern phoebes and most grassland birds are examples of these birds. Their return is strongly influenced by temperatures, and this year, they’ve stayed away a little longer because of the cold, wet spring weather, Grveles says.
The second group are long distance migrants that breed in Wisconsin or north across the boreal forest but winter in Central America, the Caribbean and South America. Wood thrushes, scarlet tanagers, hummingbirds, Baltimore orioles and most warblers are good examples of this group. Their migration is pegged mainly to changes in day length, also known as photoperiod, so their arrival doesn’t differ much year to year, she says.
“This year’s weather means more of the short-distance migrants will be arriving at the same time that the long-distance travelers normally make their appearance,” Grveles says. “The result should be a fantastic display for people who love to watch birds and for the communities that benefit from having them around.”
Many bird conservation groups, state parks and communities are sponsoring events for International Migratory Bird Day, May 11, or at other times during the month. That includes perhaps the biggest and best known, the Horicon Marsh Bird Festival, a four-day feast of bird watching events by foot, boat and bus, presentations, photo contests and more.
The number of bird watching events has swelled in recent years with the founding of Bird City Wisconsin in 2010, a chapter of the Bird City organization aimed at helping urban residents maintain healthy populations of birds and understand birds’ importance to their economies and quality of life. The organization encourages communities to host an International Migratory Day event to gain the Bird City designation, and now more than 66 communities carry that designation, up from 50 a year ago.
To help steer Wisconsin residents and visitors to good places to find birds, to bird watching events, and to opportunities to help protect birds around their yard or their area, DNR has created a gateway birding page.
“There are so many fantastic resources to help people enjoy birds and protect birds in Wisconsin that we wanted to pull them all together in one place,” says Paulios. “We hope people will use this page as a starting point for their birding adventures, and for getting involved in helping protect birds around their home and across the state.”
Logo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources