Mid-May birding report: backyard favorites return…warblers too!

Ryan Brady, DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program Biologist

Baltimore orioles and other backyard favorites like hummingbirds and rose-breasted grosbeaks have begun their return to Wisconsin. Attract orioles with a dish of jelly, halved oranges or sugar water. Photo via Wisconsin DNR

The most anticipated time of year for birdwatchers has arrived! Right on schedule, May ushered in a wealth of neotropical migrants this past weekend, including Baltimore and orchard orioles, ruby-throated hummingbirds, rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers and more. Not seeing any yet? Don’t despair as this is just the beginning of their return and has been limited mostly to the southern half of the state so far. Now is the time, though, even up north, to fill the seed feeders, prep the sugar water and offer orange halves and jelly.

Also returning to center stage are the warblers, as dozens of species fill Wisconsin’s woodlands with their colorful plumages, boundless energy and melodious songs. Yellow-rumped, palm, black-and white, black-throated green, chestnut-sided, northern waterthrush, common yellowthroat and many others are back in force across southern Wisconsin, although peak numbers are yet to come. Joining them are other long-distance migrants like veery, Swainson’s thrush, blue-headed and warbling vireo, least flycatcher, gray catbird and house wrens. In more open habitats, look for bobolinks, upland sandpipers, Henslow’s and grasshopper sparrows and eastern kingbirds. Whippoor-wills are once again calling under the veil of darkness, while by day broadwinged hawks migrate overhead, sometimes in large swirling groups known as kettles. Feeder watchers are also happy to welcome the return of redheaded woodpeckers in many areas.

Shorebirds put on a show this past week along Lake Michigan, especially including some large groups of willets and American avocets, which were joined by a few marbled godwits. Also found around the state were spotted, solitary, and least sandpipers, greater and lesser yellowlegs, long-billed dowitchers, sanderlings, and semipalmated plovers, though mostly in small numbers. Large flocks of double-crested cormorants and Bonaparte’s gulls were noted on the Great Lakes. Waterfowl migration has slowed significantly but Wisconsin’s lakes and wetlands host a good assortment of species well into June. Of note last week were thousands of horned grebes and scaup on western Lake Superior.

Some winter and early season migrants are lingering later than usual, including dark-eyed juncos, American tree sparrows, evening grosbeaks, and up north, both Bohemian waxwings and common redpolls. Pine siskins are widespread, purple finches have finally returned to the north woods in numbers, and ruby-crowned kinglets remain common in many areas. White-throated sparrows are showing well statewide, with some white-crowned and even a few Harris’s among them. Unfortunately, eastern bluebirds are particularly scarce this spring. Unusually harsh weather in the southern U.S., where many spend the non-breeding season, may have led to significant mortality this winter.

Rare birds were plentiful this week, including Wisconsin’s first burrowing owl since 2005 in Brown, ruffs in Walworth and Dodge, great gray owl and blue grosbeak in Bayfield, golden-crowned sparrow in Chippewa, barn owl in Price, black-bellied whistling duck in Milwaukee, Swainson’s hawk in Grant, western tanager in Dane, northern mockingbirds in Racine and Door, Eurasian tree sparrow in Ashland, harlequin duck in Sheboygan and summer tanagers in a handful of southeastern Wisconsin counties. Over the week ahead expect a slow but steady pace of migration as north and east winds are forecast to dominate. No days look predictably great but this time of year every day is a great one for birding. Help us track the migration by reporting your sightings to www.ebird.org/wi.

Enjoy the birds!