Birding Report: Spring migration underway
By Ryan Brady
DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program Biologist
WISCONSIN – Spring migration has arrived.
Birders across southern Wisconsin are reporting the return of robins, red-winged blackbirds, sandhill cranes, bluebirds and a large diversity of waterfowl, among other short-distance migrants that are the first to arrive each year.
As usual, migration is most evident in the southeast quarter of the state southward from Green Bay to La Crosse. However, signs of spring are apparent statewide.
March is primetime for waterfowl viewing wherever open water allows. Flocks of tundra swans, Canadian geese, greater white-fronted geese, and various ducks have been found in wetlands, inland lakes, and flooded farm fields. Look for cackling geese, snow geese, and even a few Ross’s geese among them. Puddle ducks include mallards, wood ducks, northern pintails, American wigeon and others. Expect divers like common goldeneyes, redheads, hooded mergansers, buffleheads, and scaup in slightly deeper waters.
Other arrivals include killdeer, great blue heron, eastern meadowlark, common grackle, horned lark, song sparrow and American white pelican. Raptors are also on the move, including turkey vultures, American kestrels, merlins, rough-legged hawks, and bald and golden eagles. At dawn and dusk, American woodcocks are now displaying over brushy habitats and field edges in southern counties. Listening to and looking for this species is a great family activity.
Farther north, snow and ice prevail, where trumpeter swans, a few Canada geese and bald eagles are the primary migrants. Northern saw-whet owls have begun tooting, and common ravens are nesting now. Feeders in the north right now primarily host evening grosbeaks and American goldfinches among the resident species. Pine siskins are scarce and common redpolls are nearly absent this year, as most spent the winter across Canada, where, unlike last year, food resources were adequate to sustain them.
Statewide, singing activity has ramped up for American robins, northern cardinals, mourning doves, house finches and black-capped chickadees. At the same time, woodpeckers are busy drumming, and wild turkeys are now strutting and gobbling. Bald eagles are on eggs, and great horned owls, our earliest nesters, already have chicks. Nesting activity will quickly unfold for returning migrants like cranes, robins and geese.
Are you concerned about the effect of spring snowstorms on migrating birds? These storms have shaped bird migration for millennia, and most species can deal with short-term weather setbacks.
You can help by clearing or maintaining patches of bare ground; offering mealworms, chopped fruits and suet in addition to the usual seeds; and keeping feeders full, dry and sheltered from the conditions.
As always, report your observations and discover what others see at www.ebird.org/wi/home.