Wisconsin Birds

As one of the Great Lake states, Wisconsin is a great place to watch and observe a long list of bird species. Ranging from coastal plains to highlands, distinct bird species transit during migration, stay for a while or even breed. Even though some Wisconsin birds are already extinct, there are still many others to enjoy.

Over 400 species has been recorded by the local bird committee. Most of them are similar to bird species found in other Great Lake states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois. You can find a wide range of waterfowls, rails, sandpipers, and many more. Here are 15 intriguing birds to watch in Wisconsin.

The Best Wisconsin Birds Today

Here we have summarized the names of Wisconsin birds with a complete explanation along with pictures.

American Robin

wisconsin birds

Known as the state bird of Wisconsin, the American robin (Turdus migratorius) is a migratory bird which comes from thrush family. Both sexes have recognizable plumage with reddish-orange breast and grey or jet black head. And yet, the female has duller plumage with less bright underparts.

The bird has a wide breeding range from Alaska to Mexico. They prefer woodland and more open area to breed such as farmland. They occasionally spend winter in southern Canada and northern part of the US, but most of them migrate to Mexico.

The American robin mainly feeds on small invertebrates including caterpillars, beetle, earthworms, and many others. But they occasionally eat berries especially during winter. They will flock around fermented berries and show intoxicated behavior for a few minutes.

Canada Goose

wisconsin birds

The Canada goose (Branta Canadensis) is a large waterfowl every birder can watch across the state. Among other Wisconsin birds, the Canada goose is easy to identify as it has distinctive white cheeks, black neck and head as well as brown wings.

In flight, the goose extends its neck so birders can watch the beautiful mixture of black, brown, and white plumage. Despite the Canada goose is a short-distance migratory, it is a year-round resident in Wisconsin. The waterfowl also breeds in a wide range of habitat including wetland and slow-moving river.

Canada goose feeds mainly on grains and vegetation. They also eat land grasses, wheat, rice, and corn. Aquatic plants are also included into their diet. Even though they are primarily herbivores, occasionally they eat fish and small insects.

Hooded Merganser

wisconsin birds

Local birders in Wisconsin can observe the spectacular hooded merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). This small duck has distinctive crest on the head for both sexes, though males have more striking one. The adult females have greyish brown body with white patch.

The hooded mergansers are migratory and they spend winter in warmer regions, in which the rivers, lakes or ponds don’t freeze. Their habitat includes small bodies of water, wetlands, rivers, and impoundments.

The small duck is a diving predator with excellent sight under water. It hunts fish and aquatic insects which become their main diets. Occasionally, hooded merganser feeds on crayfish and crabs as well as other aquatic invertebrates.

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

wisconsin birds

Also known as storm crow in the southern US, yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) is among intriguing Wisconsin birds. Local people believe that this cuckoo presages thunderstorms or rain though it cannot be proven scientifically.

As the name suggests, this cuckoo has curved bill with yellow mandible. It has brown head and upper parts with white underparts, allowing birdwatchers to see their beautiful white plumage in flight. Additionally, it has a yellow ring around the eyes even though it’s rather hard to identify.

The yellow-billed cuckoo lives in deciduous woods ranging from Mexico to southern Canada and build nest in a tree. They forage in trees and shrubs where abundant insects and caterpillars are available. Oftentimes, they catch insects during flight.

King Rail

wisconsin birds

This water bird is another species to find in Wisconsin. The king rail (Rallus elegans) is the largest rail in North America. It is also a permanent resident along the southeastern coast. These birds prefer wetlands such as marshes and shallow water. They also breed in marshes in eastern North America.

These Wisconsin birds have distinctive features that allows birdwatchers identify this species. It features a long, downward curve bill with brown-black plumage. It also has dark brown cap with white cap while the immature birds have lighter brown shade.

The large water bird has unique call that sounds like kek-kek. These birds forage in shallow water and hunt aquatic insects as well as crustaceans. The chicks feed on small arthropod that is transferred from parent’s bill.

Common Gallinule

wisconsin birds

Wisconsin’s marshes and wetlands are also home to the common gallinule (Gallinula galeata). This water bird comes from Rallidae family and is characterized by dark plumage and yellow legs. It also has contrast frontal shield in red which appears when they are mature.

The common gallinule prefers small aquatic creatures and vegetable materials. They are often seen foraging in the water or hopping between lily pads. These birds are secretive, so birders need to be careful when watching unless they will flee.

This water bird is territorial and they will fight to defend their territory. During breeding season, the gallinule nests in wetlands or mashes and lay eggs in spring. A female can lay about 8 eggs and both parents incubate their eggs. Parents will raise their brood together.


wisconsin birds

Along the coastal plain, killdeer (Charadrius vociferous) is a year-round resident in Wisconsin. This large plover can be identified by brown upperparts and white underparts. It has black necklace with white patches on its head. Black, pointed bill is another feature to distinguish the killdeer.

Their habitats include coastal wetlands, coastal fields, and beach. During breeding season, these Wisconsin birds prefer more open are such as fields with short vegetation and sometimes rooftops. The birds build their nests from dry vegetation and seashell.

The killdeers forage in fields for insects or invertebrates. Occasionally, it also feeds on seeds which can be found around the field with short vegetation. But during breeding season, these birds forage mainly at night due to the increase in number of insects.

Upland Sandpiper

wisconsin birds

An intriguing upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) makes the list of Wisconsin birds even longer. Once known as upland plover, this bird features a long bill with distinctive plumage on its back. White underparts and yellow legs helps birdwatchers identify this bird.

Unlike other sandpiper species, the upland sandpiper prefers open areas with tall grasses and coastal habitat. They can also be found in farms, abandoned mines and at airports. Their breeding season starts from early to late summer. During this season, they build grass nest on the ground.

The upland sandpiper has distinctive call which is known as wolf whistle. Birdwatchers can recognize their present through their calls. These birds forage in fields, seeking after beetles, ants, bugs, grasshoppers, and other insects. They occasionally feed on grains and seeds.

Buff-Breasted Sandpiper

wisconsin birds

Along the shore and coastal plain in Wisconsin, birdwatchers can find the buff-breasted sandpiper (Calidris subruficollis). The small shorebird has distinctive rufous plumage with markings and white underparts. It also features a short bill and yellow legs with male size is larger than the female.

The buff-breasted sandpiper is a long-distance migrant and it spends most time in South America. During migration, these birds are transients in Wisconsin’s coastal plain and shore. They breed in far north in Canada and Alaska, in which the female lays about four eggs.

The sandpiper forages in the field and golf-courses, picking up their food such as insects, invertebrates, and occasionally bumblebees. They are less common found near water. These birds are often tame and they are quite friendly to birdwatchers.

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American White Pelican

wisconsin birds

The American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is one of Wisconsin birds with wide wingspans up to 9 feet. These large birds are excellent swimmers and they can catch fish while swimming. They often form small group and eat around 3 pounds of fish per day.

These pelicans have distinctive, yellow-orange bill with pouch. The pouch can expand like a balloon when they thrust into the water and catch fish. Local birdwatchers can enjoy this massive bird during summer in several spots such as Brown Country and Horicon Marsh.

American Bittern

wisconsin birds

Coming from Ardeidae family, the American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) is a stocky heron with a unique plumage. The body is covered by brown plumage with black stripe on the neck, while the upperparts are brown. The bittern is secretive and it can be found in marshes, ponds, and lakes.

The American bittern has excellent camouflage capability. When alarmed, the bird freezes in an upright position and blends with surrounding plants and vegetation. The bittern is a common migrant and it usually appears around mid-April. In Wisconsin, they can be found in the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.

The bitterns feed mainly on frogs and crayfish. But occasionally, they also eat insects, small mammals, reptiles, and fish. Their long, sturdy bill helps catch their preys.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler

wisconsin birds

The chestnut-sided warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica) is among intriguing Wisconsin birds with attractive plumage. During breeding season, the male brilliant greenish-yellow forehead with black mustache. It also has chestnut streaks on white underparts with yellow-green wings and upperpart.

These warblers prefer small trees and low shrubbery, allowing birders to find them easily. They are common migrants across Wisconsin and usually appears in southern part of the state in May. In north, they are common residents during summer while fall migration starts in mid-August.

The chestnut-sided warbler feeds mainly on insects, making it an insectivorous. They forage in small trees and forages, seeking after insects. Sometimes, they also catch insects in flight. During winter, these birds eat berries such as Cymbopetalum mayanum.

Northern Shrike

wisconsin birds

Watching northern shrike (Lanius borealis) makes a day for birders. The robin-sized bird has an attractive black mask that extends to the bill. White patches on black wings make this shrike easy to recognize. To distinguish northern shrike, birders can also notice the bicolored bills.

The bird is a loner and it rarely forms a flock. During winter, you may see a northern shrike perches atop the tree. The songbird feeds on smaller vertebrates, including birds at similar or smaller size such as sparrow and chickadees. The diet also includes insects and small mammals.

Wisconsin birdwatchers can find these birds during winter in January and February. Some birds leave the region in March and head for northern tundra. The shrike may also visit bird feeders in winter.

Sandhill Crane

wisconsin birds

The sandhill crane (Antigone Canadensis) is among large Wisconsin birds with distinctive features. The bird is characterized by gray plumage with yellow eyes and red patch on the head. It also has a distinctive black bill with long legs. Meanwhile, younger birds are primarily brown.

Instead of flying with folded neck like herons, cranes fly with extended neck. This is how birdwatchers can identify these large birds in flight. You can also recognize them through distinctive calls with crowing and guttural rattle.

Sandhills are summer residents across the state. They prefer large wetlands such as Necedah National Wildlife and Sandhill State Wildlife Area. Winter is not the right time to watch these birds as they migrate to Florida with warmer climate. They forage in open fields for grain and invertebrates.

Northern Crested Caracara

wisconsin birds

Wisconsin’s local bird committee has recorded northern crested caracara (Caracara cheriway) as one of birds of the state. This bird of prey comes from Falconidae family but it is not a fast-flying hunter. Caracara is rather sluggish and they often feed on carrion.

As the name suggests, it has a distinctive black crest on the head with thick, hooked bill. Adult caracara has black body and wings with white breast. Mottled breast, brown plumage, and pinkish facial skin are sign of immature birds.

Northern crested caracara lives in lowland to mid-elevation. They can be found in agricultural areas such as coastal woodlands, prairies, coconut plantations, and open uplands. They primarily feed on carrion, though fruit is included into their diet.

As one of Great Lake states, Wisconsin offers habitats for a wide array of bird species. Wisconsin birds are typically similar to the neighboring states, ranging from seabirds to waterfowls. Make sure to find them in the right place and at the right time.

Sometimes, when people ask what I do to make a living, I can't think of a better word than "writer". I am a student, web maker, writer, bird lover ... and many more.

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