Mid-March birding report: Spring migration

Ryan Brady, DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program Biologist

Bird migration was visible on radar the evening of March 9, as early-season migrants winged north overnight on southerly tail winds ahead of an approaching cold front with rain showers. Photo via National Center for Atmospheric Research

Migration continues to ramp up across southern Wisconsin, bringing more birds inching farther north almost daily. The return of sandhill cranes, Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds and American robins have been especially welcome for many bird lovers from Eau Claire to Wausau to Green Bay and southward. Other new arrivals include the first American woodcocks, tree swallows, turkey vultures, eastern bluebirds, song sparrows and American white pelicans.

Now is a great time to focus on waterfowl migration, especially if you are a new birder, as these species often provide good views and are relatively easy to identify, especially in the spring. Canada geese are pairing up and getting territorial. Flocks of greater white-fronted geese are being seen in open wetlands and agricultural fields. Tundra swans are increasing in numbers across eastern Wisconsin, while trumpeters dominate in western and northern areas. Ducks are prevalent in flooded fields, along Lake Michigan and anywhere with open water, including a wide variety of species such common goldeneyes, common and red-breasted mergansers, hooded mergansers, greater and lesser scaup, redheads, some canvasbacks, wood ducks, shovelers, pintail, American wigeon and even some early blue-winged teal. Raptor migration is also picking up. Bald eagles are staging in large numbers along the Mississippi River and most will head north in March, as will our smaller population of golden eagles. Rough-legged hawks have begun to depart but will remain across many areas through mid-April. The first red-shouldered hawks have returned, peregrine falcons are back to nest boxes, and numbers of northern harriers, American kestrels and merlins are on the rise. A few snowy owls remain, while barred and screech owls have been commonly heard and seen. Now is a good time to start listening for saw-whet owls as well.

Other species of note in the south include northern flickers, cedar waxwings, eastern bluebirds, killdeer, great blue herons, belted kingfishers and common grackles. Farther north, good numbers of common redpolls continue, as well as a few evening grosbeaks and an occasional great gray owl. Rare birds were few this week but we should expect some oddities to show up as migration gains steam with each passing week.

The week ahead looks to have more seasonable temperatures, head out to see what you can find and help us track the migration by reporting your sightings to www.ebird.org/wi.

Enjoy the birds!