Birding Report: Tundra swans arrive in big numbers, snowy owls trickle in, some feeder favorites linger

By Ryan Brady

DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program Biologist

WISCONSIN – Tundra swans reached the state in a big way this week, the first major influx coming on Nov. 17 when birders reported hundreds from various sites around the state and over 1,200 in Portage County. Numbers have built substantially at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, where upwards of 10,000 can now be found on Pool 8.

The Brownsville overlook on the Minnesota side often provides the best viewing. Look for bald eagles, Canada geese, American white pelicans, and large numbers of ducks at various refuge vantages. Impressive this week were counts of 1,000 American wigeon in Vernon County and 3,000 canvasbacks in Crawford. Elsewhere, divers such as bufflehead, common goldeneye, and red-breasted mergansers are showing well, including over 2,000 of the latter in Racine.

Not to be outdone, sandhill cranes were also reported in large numbers across southern Wisconsin, including a highly visible southward flight on Nov. 22. Over 1,800 were tallied in just a few hours in Ozaukee County, while nearly 3,000 were reportedly still staging near Horicon Marsh. Gulls aren’t viewed as admirably by most but a count of 5,500 herring gulls on Lake Superior in Douglas is impressive nonetheless. A few shorebirds continue to be seen including dunlin, sanderling, greater yellowlegs, Wilson’s snipe, and a few others.

A total of 18 snowy owls have been reported from 14 counties, the bulk of those arriving this past week. Read a detailed update on our snowy owl page. Other winter birds being seen include rough-legged hawk, short-eared owl, northern shrike, snow bunting, and American tree sparrow. Common redpolls are plentiful and widespread across the Northwoods, with a few reaching southern Wisconsin already, but don’t expect many at feeders until later in winter. White-winged crossbills are also being seen, though less abundantly. A few pine siskins, American goldfinches, and purple finches can be found too, as well as small numbers of pine grosbeaks in far northern counties.

Surprising were reports of lingering species such as Baltimore oriole, rose-breasted grosbeak, least flycatcher, American bittern, Hudsonian godwit, and common yellowthroat. Other rarities since our last report include king eider on Green Bay, red phalaropes in Dane and Sheboygan, Townsend’s solitaire in Douglas, rufous hummingbird in Richland, black-legged kittiwakes, Pacific loon, and hoary redpoll in Bayfield, and late cattle egrets documented in Dodge, Door, Marinette, Ashland, and Bayfield. As dry, seasonable weather is forecast into early December, a general lack of snow and ice (on larger water bodies, at least) should allow many species to linger and provide good late-season birdwatching opportunities.

Find out what others are seeing and report your finds at

Good birding!

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