A Beginner's Guide to Wisconsin's Birding Hotspots

Grab your binoculars, a birding guide and a friend or two and head out into Wisconsin’s birding heaven. More than 400 species of birds have been spotted in Wisconsin, and at least 250 of them are considered regulars. The state’s place on the seasonal migration route brings a number of passing visitors in spring and fall as well. Whether you’re staying close to home or driving across the state to a hotspot, our abundant green (and blue!) space makes casual or serious birding easy and enjoyable.

Horicon Marsh

Top of the list, particularly during migration periods, is this 32,000-acre freshwater cattail marsh, the largest in the nation. Divided into a National Wildlife Refuge to the north and a state-managed wildlife area to the south, Horicon Marsh has hosted over 300 species, particularly waterfowl. In summer herons come to nest here and bald eagles and pelicans fish the waters. Flocks of Canada Geese have numbered over 200,000 during peak migration. The visitor centers are great sources of information for the park and surrounding area, and the trail systems, boardwalks, and observation decks in both the Federal and Wisconsin sides are kid-friendly and wildlife-rich.

There’s even a canoe “trail” that circles back to the put-in. The Wild Goose Trail, a rail trail, passes right along the northwest corner of the marsh, connecting riders back to Fond du Lac.

The Mississippi River and Wyalusing State Park

Like the Great River Road that follows it, the Mississippi River is a great route for travelers, but in this case we mean birds. You can spot abundant eagles, egrets, herons, and kingfishers, and a long list of migratory birds along the route.

The Wisconsin River empties into the Mississippi at Wyalusing State Park, and the park’s bluff overlooks the confluence of the two mighty rivers. The songbird population here is impressive as is the variety of warblers including Cerulean, Kentucky, Yellow-throated and Prothonotary Warblers, plus an assortment of flycatchers, vireos and more.

Find great camping in the park or follow the Great River Road north for the day, stopping in small towns along the way to La Crosse. North from there is another great riverside hotspot: the 6,446-acre Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, which combines prairies with its riverside wetlands and forests.

Milwaukee Area Parks

No need to leave the big city to find feathered friends. The Schlitz Audubon Nature Center lies along the Lake Michigan shore and offers a variety of family-friendly trails with abundant birdlife. Find shore birds near the water, and expect an abundance of woodpeckers, songbirds, and a screech owl if you’re lucky. Other similar nature centers in the area include Wehr Center in Franklin and the Retzer Center in Waukesha.

Crex Meadows Wildlife Area

One of the top 500 birding sites in the country, this 30,000-acre preserve of wetlands and brush prairie near Grantsburg in northwestern Wisconsin has seen over 280 species and keeps an online list of everything spotted in the last week. You can take a 24-mile driving tour through the property, but a cycling or paddling tour might get you closer to some wildlife. In the past, Crex Meadows has even had the occasional moose or mountain lion.

Governor Knowles State Forest, along the paddling-camping favorite Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, is a short drive to the west and offers abundant hiking, camping, and paddling.

Natural beauty abounds in Wisconsin's state parks. Find great trails for hiking and wildlife-spotting at these state parks perfect for exploring.

This entry was posted in Birding