By Ryan Brady, Conservation Biologist, Wisconsin DNR
Mid-November brought hundreds of Tundra Swans to traditional areas along the Mississippi River, Goose Pond in Columbia County, and the vicinity of Green Bay. Numbers build until ice cover forces them eastward to mid-Atlantic wintering grounds.
Other waterfowl are plentiful now as well, including a variety of divers and dabblers at most water bodies. Large numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers have been seen migrating south off the Lake Michigan shore, highlighted by more than 10,000 at Manitowoc on Nov. 12. Lake Michigan is also a great location for spotting Long-tailed Ducks and all three scoter species.
Open habitats now host Rough-legged Hawks by day and some Short-eared Owls at dusk and dawn. Look for Northern Shrikes and Snow Buntings in these areas as well. Golden Eagles have arrived in wintering areas in the Driftless Area of western Wisconsin. Bald Eagle numbers are increasing, too, as cold and snow begin to push them south out of Canada. Big flocks of Sandhill Cranes were reported from many agricultural and wetland areas, some migrating out of the state with recent northerly winds.
Perhaps the fall’s biggest bird news so far is an irruption of Evening Grosbeaks statewide and across the eastern United States. Flocks are unusually common across the North Woods, and some have reached such southern areas as Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago. Grosbeaks were once common in the state, but populations have declined dramatically since the 1980s. Thanks to new outbreaks of spruce budworms -- a key summer food source -- in the Canadian boreal forest, the species has rebounded slightly in recent years. Look and listen for them at seeds, such as ash, boxelder and maple, or attract them to your yard with open platform feeders, sunflower seeds, and a water source.
Other winter finches, including Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, Red Crossbills, and Pine Siskins, are moving into the North Woods slowly. Purple Finches and Red-breasted Nuthatches are showing well in the south, while Blue Jays are particularly numerous in the north this year. American Goldfinches are plentiful statewide.
Photo: Evening Grosbeak at Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area, Quebec, Canada, by Cephas via Wikimedia Commons.