Wisconsin is home to North America’s largest population of wintering eagles. The greatest concentration of the majestic birds is found along the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers, especially at locks, dams and power plants, where running water throughout the winter provides a reliable feeding ground.
Sauk City and Prairie du Sac are among the state’s top eagle-watching spots because the waters of the Wisconsin River flowing below the Prairie du Sac dam seldom freeze, making fish available as food for the birds. Cassville, located along the Mississippi River, is another popular eagle-watching spot. Top viewing locations include a new wildlife observation deck at Riverside Park and nearby Nelson Dewey State Park Wildlife Refuges
The Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, covering more than 43,500 acres of wetlands, forest, restored oak savanna and prairie, is a prime place for birdwatching. More than 220 species of birds have been recorded here. Birders can spot herons, red-headed woodpeckers common loons, tundra swans, trumpeter swans, turkey vultures, ruffed grouse, wild turkeys and golden eagles. However, the reintroduction of migratory whooping cranes has stolen the birding show at Necedah. Wildlife biologists, working with ultralight aircraft pilots, conducted flight training with a small flock of whooping cranes at Necedah, and in the fall of 2001, the birds made their first migration guided by ultralight aircraft to their wintering ground in Florida. In April and May 2002, five whooping cranes returned to Necedah, completing their first successful migration on their own.
Spanning 261 miles, the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge is the longest wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states and covers a large portion of Wisconsin’s western border. The river and its wooded islands, forested bottomland, marshes, sloughs, backwater lakes, sandbars, prairie remnants and surrounding bluffs provide abundant habitats. Almost 300 species of birds have been recorded in the refuge. As one of the nation’s major bird migration corridors, the Mississippi River is a top spot for viewing waterfowl. Among the many species that birders may observe are canvasback ducks, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, white pelicans, ruffed grouse, wild turkeys, turkey vultures, osprey, peregrine falcons, red-shouldered hawks, great egrets and yellow-crowned night herons.
Crex Meadows Wildlife Area is Wisconsin’s second-largest state-owned wildlife area and a premier place for wildlife watching. Located just north of Grantsburg in northwestern Wisconsin, it consists mainly of wetlands, flowages and brush-prairie, with some forest and the 79-acre Crex Sand Prairie State Natural Area dedicated to native prairie recovery. More than 270 species of birds have been recorded at Crex Meadows, and half of them nest here. Several endangered and threatened species of birds have found refuge at Crex, including the trumpeter swan, bald eagle, osprey, red-necked grebe, great egret and peregrine falcon.
A perennially popular birdwatching spot, Horicon Marsh in southeastern Wisconsin is the nation’s largest freshwater cattail marsh, spanning approximately 14 miles top to bottom and five miles side to side. Often referred to as the “Everglades of the North,” Horicon Marsh is a seasonal staging area for the largest population of migrating Canada geese in the world. More than 275 bird species have been sighted here, including white pelicans, herons and egrets.
In south-central Wisconsin, Devil’s Lake State Park and Baxter’s Hollow State Natural Area in the Baraboo Hills region offer wonderful birdwatching opportunities. The area’s many rugged cliffs and deep gorges draw bird species rare to southern Wisconsin. Expansive tracts of undisturbed forest provide habitats for birds not normally found in the state’s more developed southern half. Although only open to the public May through October, the International Crane Foundation offers guided and self-guided public tours of the world's most complete collection of cranes -- the tallest flying bird. Experience the beauty of cranes and the stunning walking trails winding through restored prairie, oak savanna and wetland.