Tips for seeing Wisconsin waterfowl in the fall
As summer winds down, birds across North America develop wanderlust. It’s time for the annual fall migration. Millions of birds will make the journey, and many of those birds will pass through Wisconsin on their way south to their wintering grounds.
Many of the birds that make their way through Wisconsin pass through in a matter of days. Some birds pass through virtually unnoticed, flying in great flocks at night. The hardest birds to see are warblers, which make their way through Wisconsin in late summer. Most other migrating songbirds push their way through the state in early fall.
But there’s one group of birds that are content to linger for a while in the Badger State: waterfowl. These birds are both easy to spot and fascinating to watch.
One reason why waterfowl are so easy to spot is their size. Compared to warblers and sparrows, waterfowl are huge. Warblers weigh just one third of an ounce, while a canvasback duck can weigh three and a half pounds. Tundra swans can weigh as much as 23 lbs; by contrast, the largest bald eagles weigh 14 pounds.
Another reason why waterfowl are easy to spot is their habitat. Waterfowl spend their time either in the air or on the water. Puddle ducks such as mallards, wood ducks and teal can be found in small groups on shallow bays and ponds. Diving ducks such as bluebills, redheads, bufflehead and ring-necked ducks can be seen out in the middle of lakes and reservoirs in large groups called rafts.
Waterfowl are fascinating to watch. In areas where there is a high concentration of geese, flocks are constantly in motion. Ducks feed actively in the fall, with puddle ducks tipping their bodies forward and diving ducks disappearing below the surface as they dive into the depths looking for food. Flocks of coot, or mudhen, run across the water when startled. Graceful swans lift their long necks straight and let out a trumpet-like song. Waterfowl are simply fun to watch.
Once you have a pair of binoculars and a birding guide, all you need is a place to see waterfowl. Wisconsin has a number of options.
One good place for seeing ducks and geese is Black River Country. This complex of wetlands in the Black River State Forest offers a number of observation points. Early in the season, mallards, teal, wood ducks and shorebirds can be seen.
Another top birding destination is Onalaska. Located on the Mississippi River, Onalaska is on the Mississippi Flyway, the largest bird migration route in North America. Much of the area is designated as a wildlife refuge, attracting everything from pelicans in early fall to diving ducks and swans later in the season. Lake Onalaska, a pool on the Mississippi River, is one of the best places on the entire Mississippi River to see rafts of diving ducks, particularly in November.
Get out and see some waterfowl this fall. Waterfowl watching is fun, fascinating and easy.