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Wisconsin Bird Nesting




















Wisconsin is near the top of nesting bird diversity in all of eastern United States. The best places to look for birds are your favorite summer spots – vacation cabins, favorite state park, local wetlands, etc. For outdoor enthusiasts looking to experience the great diversity of the nesting bird species Wisconsin has to offer, the following sites are known to harbor most of Wisconsin’s nesting birds.


The sites listed are but a small sample of the places throughout the state, which the naturalist can find nesting birds. These places have varying degrees of infrastructure to accommodate users. The best time to visit is generally June through mid-July. After mid-July bird song activity greatly decreases.

Two things to remember: Before entering and leaving these sites, be sure to remove any seeds from your clothing and especially be aware of mud brought in on your boots to prevent garlic mustard and other invasive weed seeds from being introduced. Make sure you have ethics in mind to not preclude successful nesting.


The descriptions are excerpted directly from the Wisconsin Important Bird Area web. Outdoor enthusiasts, especially bird lovers are encouraged to visit that web and visit the sites listed therein. Sites are listed from around the state to provide an easy commute for everyone.


1. Crex Meadows in Burnett County - This 30,000 acre site is over half wetland communities, primarily sedge marshes and sedge meadows, but also deep-water marsh and flowages. There also are significant acreages of grassland, restored brush-prairie, and forests of oak, jack pine, and aspen. Barrens, shrubland, and grassland restorations are ongoing. Crex Meadows offers some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the state.


This site provides critical habitat for numerous high-priority species. It is the original release site for the Wisconsin trumpeter swan recovery program and maintains a robust population of trumpeters. The extensive sedge meadows and marshes contain breeding American bitterns, yellow rails, red-necked grebes, black terns, blue-winged teal, ring-necked ducks, hooded mergansers, sedge wrens, Le Conte’s sparrows and Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrows. Barrens, shrublands, and grasslands host sharp-tailed grouse, northern harrier, upland sandpiper, American woodcock, short-eared owl, red-headed woodpecker, brown thrasher, golden-winged warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, Connecticut warbler, field sparrow, and bobolink, among others.


2. North Kettle Moraine State Forest in Sheboygan and Fond du Lac Counties - This important ibid area features a landscape rich in diverse glacial landforms such as kettle, kames, eskers, and outwash plains.  The forests here are the most extensive in southeastern Wisconsin and are composed of oaks, hickory, basswood, sugar maple, and beech.  Outwash plains are vegetated with swamp hardwoods, bog relicts, sedge meadows, small cattail marshes, and shrub carr.  There also are conifer plantations and small areas of planted prairie.


This site harbors one of the core population areas for priority southern forest birds such as Eastern wood-pewee, Acadian flycatcher, wood thrush, cerulean warbler, and hooded warbler.  Bogs and native and planted conifers host species more typical of northern Wisconsin such as Nashville warbler, pine warbler, Northern waterthrush, Canada warbler, and white-throated sparrow.  Grass-shrub habitats contain Northern harrier, willow flycatcher, brown thrasher, and field sparrow. 


3. Southern Kettle Moraine State fFrest in Waukesha and Walworth Counties - This important bird area contains one of the largest blocks of upland deciduous forest in southeastern Wisconsin.  It also contains sedge meadows and other wetlands, native prairies, savanna, shrub carr, cool-season grasslands, upland shrubs, and conifer plantations.


This IBA provides critical habitat for southern forest interior birds, including yellow-billed cuckoo, whip-poor-will, yellow-throated vireo, eastern wood-pewee, wood thrush, cerulean warbler, and the state’s largest population of hooded warbler.  Over 3,000 acres of wet grassland habitat provide for northern harrier, sedge wren, Henslow’s sparrow, field sparrow, bobolink, and Eastern meadowlark.  Ongoing savanna restorations may allow species such as red-headed woodpecker to expand their numbers. 


4. Lower Wisconsin River in several southern Wisconsin counties. This IBA, encompassing most of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway as well as the Spring Green Preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy, presents a vast mosaic of lowland and upland habitats associated with a large-river floodplain.  Present are river islands ranging in cover from open to forested; floodplain and upland (oak and maple-basswood) forest tracts, some extensive; wet prairie; sedge meadow; emergent marsh, both shallow and deep; managed impoundments; shrub swamp; oak barrens; dry prairie; sandy oldfields; and bluffs.


The Lower Wisconsin River contains habitat for a wide variety of priority species and is considered especially critical for southern forest birds.  It contains some of southern Wisconsin’s largest populations of red-shouldered hawk, prothonotary warbler, and cerulean warbler, as well as yellow-crowned night-heron, American woodcock, whip-poor-will, yellow-billed cuckoo, Acadian flycatcher, Eastern wood-pewee, wood thrush, Kentucky warbler, and hooded warbler.  Dry prairies and more open barrens provide important habitat for grassland birds that prefer shorter, sparser vegetation, notably lark sparrow but also grasshopper sparrow and Western meadowlark.  Barrens and shrub habitats support brown thrasher, Bell’s vireo, field sparrow, vesper sparrow, and orchard oriole.  Least bittern, willow flycatcher, marsh wren, sedge wren, and swamp sparrow breed in wetlands and shrub swamps.  The IBA also provides critical habitat for staging and migrating birds including waterfowl, waterbirds, landbirds and raptors, and sandhill cranes. 


5. Blue Hills in Rusk and Barron counties - This IBA encompasses the geological feature known as the Blue Hills, an area of rugged topography composed of very resistant underlying quartzite.  Most of the land is now in county forest, and the landscape is largely forested, with both young and mature forests of oaks, aspen, and maples in the uplands and bottomland hardwoods, lowland brush, and scattered conifer bogs in the lowlands.  Also present are mixed hardwood-conifer forest, areas of mature conifers, cool-season grasslands, and many streams.


This extensive forested landscape provides habitat for many forest birds, including significant suitable habitat for cerulean warbler.  Other high-priority breeders include least flycatcher, yellow-throated vireo, wood thrush, and black-throated blue warbler.  Bog relicts provide for Nashville warbler, Northern waterthrush, pine warbler, and Lincoln’s sparrow.


6. Lower Chippewa River in several west central Wisconsin counties - This area encompasses the final 40 miles of Wisconsin’s second-largest river before it meets the Mississippi. The floodplain is flat and meandering with many oxbows and bayous, and contains the largest contiguous floodplain forest in the entire upper Midwest. Prairie is found on the sand and gravel terraces, while the surrounding hills harbor goat prairie and savanna. Other vegetation types present include shallow marsh, willow thickets, cool season grasses, and scattered ponds and conifers.


This site supports significant breeding populations for numerous high priority species, including red-shouldered hawk, Kentucky warbler, and prothonotary warbler. It is considered a cerulean warbler core habitat, with up to 10,000 acres of suitable habitat available for this species. The site is a concentration area for waterfowl, with numbers exceeding 25,000 on many days in the fall. Several hundred waterbirds, including herons, egrets, and bitterns, also concentrate here in late summer. The site is an exceptional concentration area for migratory landbirds, particularly in the spring, with numbers conservatively estimated at 100,000 in a single day.


7. Headwaters Wilderness Area, Forest County - This IBA, on the Nicolet portion of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, consists of extensive conifer wetlands of spruce, fir, and tamarack alternating with upland forests of second-growth northern hardwoods and scattered pines.


This “boreal” IBA is rich in breeding birds, particularly conifer-loving species.  Breeders include black-billed cuckoo, yellow-bellied flycatcher, blue-headed vireo, Magnolia warbler, and evening grosbeak.  Rare or uncommon species such as great gray owl, spruce grouse, black-backed woodpecker, olive-sided flycatcher, gray jay, boreal chickadee, and red and white-winged crossbills also breed here.


8. Camp Nine Pines, Bayfield County - On the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, this site covers the pine-dominated forests from the edge of the great Northwest Barrens across the moraine to more mesic lands in the eastern portion near the Rainbow Lake Wilderness Area. This high, relatively rugged moraine is found throughout the site, with numerous kettles holding various amounts of water. Extensive tracts of old conifer forest are a characteristic feature of this site, along with deep kettle wetlands and dry pine-oak forest that tends toward barrens in the western part of the area. Some of the uplands are in a similar old growth condition with patches of old red pine and white pine mixed with mature hardwoods, including the western part of the Rainbow Lake Wilderness Area. In places, the uplands have been managed for early succession forest trees mostly aspen, plantation red pine, and white birch. Smaller patches of open wet meadow, barrens, and upland openings also are present.


This site is home to significant populations of conifer-loving species, including black-backed woodpecker, gray jay, blue-headed vireo, Nashville warbler, northern parula, pine warbler, Blackburnian warbler, Connecticut warbler, purple finch, red crossbill, white-winged crossbill, pine siskin, and evening grosbeak. Red-shouldered hawk, whip-poor-will, golden-winged warbler, and Canada warbler also breed here.


9. Perkinstown Hemlock Hardwood Forest, Taylor County - This area covers the forestland in the central portion of the Medford district of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The topography encompasses a terminal moraine with all the attendant glacial features: eskers, kettles, kames, ice-walled lake plains, and outwash terraces. The most important feature is the extensive tracts of old conifer forest, extensive conifer wetlands and mature northern hardwood forest that still remain. Much of the forest lies in the rugged moraine, but the vast Kidrick Swamp is flat. Other habitats include alder thicket, open bog, muskeg, old red pine forest, floodplain forest, and upland openings.


This site hosts breeding populations of many neotropical migrants such as yellow-throated vireo, mourning warbler and Canada warbler. Especially high numbers of veery, wood thrush, black-throated blue warbler, northern parula, and Blackburnian warbler are found here.


10. Military Ridge; Dane, Green and Iowa counties - This IBA is located in the midst of one of the most extensive open landscape in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, and features many streams, hills, ridges, and valleys with the Military Ridge along the northern boundary of the site.  Once covered by prairie and oak savanna, this area is now largely agricultural, consisting of cropland, pasture, and idle grassland (mostly CRP fields).  Smaller areas of woodland, savanna, shrub, and riparian habitats also are present.  The area contains a significant concentration of prairie remnants on slopes and areas of thin soil that were never plowed.  Most of the site is in private ownership, save for the York Prairie State Natural Area and several county parks.  The Nature Conservancy owns two preserves in the area.


This IBA harbors some of the best grassland bird habitat remaining in the state.  It is one of three focus areas targeted for grassland bird conservation in the WDNR’s Southwest Grassland and Stream Conservation Area, a landscape-scale project aiming to protect functioning grassland, savanna, and stream ecosystems.  Many priority grassland birds have high populations here, including Northern harrier, upland sandpiper, Henslow’s sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, dickcissel, bobolink, Eastern meadowlark, and Western meadowlark.  Various priority savanna species also breed here in high numbers: red-headed woodpecker; willow flycatcher; Bell’s vireo; brown thrasher; and field sparrow. 

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