Ryan Brady, DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program Biologist
Birdwatchers are delighting in a bounty of song and color as birds continue to return statewide. Baltimore and orchard orioles, scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, ruby-throated hummingbirds and other backyard favorites like house wrens, gray catbirds, American goldfinches and red-headed woodpeckers are showing well in most areas. Warblers are moving later than usual this year with large numbers still being seen in the southern tier of the state, only now including later species like Canada, bay-breasted, and Connecticut warbler.
Other late-arriving species like blackbilled and yellow-billed cuckoos, common nighthawk, olive-sided flycatcher, and dickcissel have just reached Wisconsin in earnest. Overall, migration is past its peak but will continue for 2-3 weeks.
Shorebirds are another bird group to watch right now, particularly at flooded fields, mudflats and coastal beaches. Now being seen are least, semipalmated and spotted sandpipers, black-bellied
and semipalmated plovers, shortbilled dowitcher, dunlin, sanderling, ruddy turnstone and Wilson’s phalarope, along with the occasional red-necked phalarope, black-necked stilt, marbled godwit and American avocet. Look for black and Forster’s terns inland and common and Caspian terns along the Great Lakes. Overhead, raptor migration is winding down but expect to see small swirling “kettles” of immature broadwinged hawks into early or mid-June, along with our various nesting species like bald eagles, Cooper’s and red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures and others.
Breeding season is moving along for many species. Resident and early arriving species may already have nestlings or fledged young, including Canada goose, mallard, wood duck, hooded merganser, great horned owl, bald eagle, common raven, mourning dove, northern cardinal, killdeer, great blue heron, sandhill crane and others. Some recent arrivals are also not wasting any time and have already begun nest building or even egg laying, including Baltimore oriole, blue-gray gnatcatcher and yellow-rumped and pine warblers. Unfortunately, birdwatchers and avid bluebird monitors continue to report significantly fewer Eastern bluebirds in the state this year. This species, and several others like Eastern phoebe and hermit thrush, likely suffered major overwinter mortality due to unusually cold and snowy weather in the southern U.S.
Some recent rarities include snowy egret, scissor-tailed flycatcher and black-throated gray warbler in Milwaukee County, western kingbird in Door, black vulture in Brown, blue grosbeak in Ozaukee, white-faced ibis in Dodge, harlequin duck in Sheboygan and Eurasian tree sparrow in Bayfield. Late May and early June offer some great birding, so be sure to get out looking for migrants, rarities or resident birds alike. Celebrate Wisconsin Bird Conservation Week by not only taking time to watch birds but also taking action to help them, like making a window bird-safe, planting native trees and shrubs, or participating in the Great Wisconsin Birdathon. As always, let us know what birds you are seeing at Wisconsin eBird.