Have you ever seen a flash of feathers outside your window and wondered who flew by? Birdwatching is one of my favorite outdoor activities, and Wisconsin and Minnesota is a great place to look— Wisconsin alone is home to over 400 bird species! This fun and peaceful activity only requires keen eyes, ears, and a passion for wildlife. If you’re wondering how to start birdwatching or what kinds of woodland management will attract birds, keep reading!
When setting out to look for birds, it is important to know a bird's key ID features. Look for size, coloration, and shape. With these characteristics in mind, it will be easy for you to narrow down your bird’s species. For instance, Black-capped Chickadees are very small birds with distinct black feathers on their heads. Adult Black-capped Chickadees measure 4 to 6 inches in length. American Robins, on the other hand, can easily be distinguished by their rust-colored breasts and yellow beaks. They are also much larger than Black-capped Chickadees, with adults measuring 8 to 11 inches in length.
It can be helpful to build up a knowledge of common birds before delving into more complicated bird species. One way to help strengthen your bird identification skills is to use a bird field guide or The Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website.
Adult Black-capped Chickadee
Photo Credit: John Pizniur/Audubon Photography Award
Another feature to be mindful of when birdwatching is habitat. As with all animals, certain bird species prefer specific habitats. For example, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, and woodpeckers frequent forests and woodlands. But shorelines and bodies of water are preferred by Great Blue Herons, Egrets, and Canada Geese. So you most likely would not find a Great Blue Heron in the middle of a forest with no water nearby! If you are on the lookout for specific bird species, make sure you know the habitat they prefer in order to have the most successful trip.
Adult Great Blue Heron with Nestling
Photo Credit: Kathy Lichtendal/Audubon Photography Awards
How to Create Bird Habitat
One perk of birdwatching is that you don’t have to go far to do it. You can set up a bird feeder in your backyard, go on a walk around your neighborhood, or go hiking on one of the many trails in the St. Croix River valley and watershed. You can also manage your lands to provide preferable habitat for birds. One way to do so is by planting a diverse range of native flowering plants. By attracting an abundance of insects, you’ll provide birds with a reliable food source.
If you own woodlands, having a diverse range of trees will also provide a variety of nesting sites. Different birds prefer different trees for nesting—for instance, Eastern Bluebirds prefer to nest in the cavities of oak trees, while Baltimore Orioles prefer American elms, Cottonwoods, and Maples. Additionally, it is important that trees are not all the same height, since birds have preferences on the height of their nests. A mixed age forest will most likely attract the widest array of bird species. It’s also recommended that you feather the edges of your forest, which means sparsely planting shrubs along the edges. These plants will provide cover for birds moving in and out of your forest, while also providing habitat for species that prefer to nest in forest edges.
Adult Baltimore Oriole
Photo Credit: Deborah Bifulco/Audubon Photography Awards
Wondering how to get started with woodland management to attract birds? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 715-483-3300 (ext. 23)!
We’d love to know what birds you’re finding in your area! For more resources to get you started, check out the links below. Happy birdwatching!
Wisconsin DNR Checklist of Wisconsin Birds: https://dnr.wi.gov/files/PDF/pubs/ER/ER0633.pdf
NPS Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway Where to Bird: https://www.nps.gov/sacn/learn/nature/where-to-bird.htm
The Cornell Lab All About Birds: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/
Audubon Guide to North American Birds: https://www.audubon.org/bird-guide
Wisconsin Society for Ornithology: https://wsobirds.org/
MSU Forest Management for the Birds: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/forest_management_for_the_birds
The Best Trees, Vines, and Shrubs to Plant for Birds: A Starter List https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/the-best-plants-and-trees-to-plant-for-birds-a-starter-list/
Keeping Your Woods Healthy Fact Sheet: https://bit.ly/3A5RaqR