Pine Siskin

Pine siskins have surged into the state and descended onto bird feeders and baths statewide. Photo by Ryan Brady.

We are now firmly in the mid-migration season comprised largely of short-distance migrants that overwinter north of the tropics. However, making headlines this week are some feeder visitors we often associate with winter. Pine siskins have surged into the state and descended onto bird feeders and baths by the dozens if not hundreds in many locations statewide. This is a nomadic, sometimes transient finch species so time will tell how many stick around for the winter months. Attract them with nyjer (thistle) seed, sunflower chips and a water source. Although fewer in number, purple finches and red-breasted nuthatches are also frequenting feeders in above average numbers for this time of year, making for a wonderful start to the cold weather feeding season. 

Otherwise, sparrows are now prevalent statewide, with October marking maximum diversity for these seed-eating species. White-throated sparrows are peaking in the south and decreasing up north. Dark-eyed juncos are moving in everywhere, as are good numbers of fox sparrows and the first American tree sparrows. Reports of Harris’s sparrow were widespread this week, along with some isolated observations of the even rarer Nelson’s sparrow in the southeast. Other more common sparrows to watch for are song, chipping, white-crowned, swamp and Lincoln’s, as well as Eastern towhees and brown thrashers scratching on the ground nearby. In the trees above, common migrants now include golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets, winter wren, brown creeper, northern flicker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, hermit thrush and eastern bluebird. American robins from the boreal forest have moved in, as have rusty blackbirds amid large flocks of red-winged blackbirds and common grackles. Tundra migrants like American pipit, horned lark and Lapland longspur are also being seen. An early snow bunting was photographed in Burnett County. Expect more to arrive after October 15.

Cedar waxwings remain common near fruit sources, and keep an eye out for lingering gray catbird, eastern phoebe and various warblers. Yellow-rumped and palm, along with a few orange-crowned warblers, dominate now but very small numbers of a wide variety of warbler species can be seen through the month. Hummingbirds have almost entirely departed except for continuing migrants in the southeast quarter of the state. Keep those hummingbird feeders up for a few more weeks and watch for species other than our typical ruby-throated. Birders found the last good push of broad-winged hawks and first golden eagles this past week. Nearly all raptor species can be seen now but sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, red-tailed, American kestrel and turkey vulture are most often seen. After dark, northern saw-whet owls and the first long-eared owls are on the move. Listen for agitated songbirds during the day to potentially find a roosting owl.

Duck migration is picking up with a wide diversity of dabbling (puddle) ducks, especially wood ducks and teal, and increasing numbers of divers like scaup and redhead, as well as the first bufflehead, long-tailed ducks and scoters. Great egrets, great blue herons and a few green herons are still being seen, as are some soras, Virginia rails and American bitterns at wetland edges. Mudflats continue to host nice shorebird diversity, especially including black-bellied and American golden plovers, killdeer, Wilson’s snipe, long-billed dowitcher, greater yellowlegs and dunlin. Sandhill cranes and common loons have both started to flock up as a prelude to their departure coming later this fall. 

Some of this week’s rare finds were little blue heron in Marathon County, Hudsonian godwits in Dodge, and laughing gull, Sabine’s gulls and Pacific loon in Douglas. The week ahead should provide some delightful birding conditions with mild temperatures through the weekend and then favorable northwest winds early to mid-next week. Help us track the migration by reporting your finds to www.ebird.org/wi. Good birding!

– Ryan Brady, DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program biologist