Conservation Corner is a weekly article produced by the Forest County
Winters in Wisconsin give us the unique opportunity to look up into the branches and treetops for our Winter birds. During Winter, you may be able to spot species such as woodpeckers (red-bellied, hairy, downy, pileated), finches and even the rare snowy owl.
Some winters will bring a rare occurrence called a bird irruption (not eruption). These irruptions hepper when conifers in the Northwoods experience high crop yields, causing bird populations to skyrocket due to a high abundance of seeds and other sources of food.
Once Winter hits, there isn’t enough good and habitat to sustain the higher populations. So, they take to the skies, flocking south in search of new habitat, leading to unusual species such as the evening grosbeak, hoary redpoll and pine grosbeak visiting your feeders this time of year.
A messy yard is one of the easiest ways to help birds in the winter. Spare yourself the backache of raking and clearing leaves, they’ll enrich the soil and provide habitat for bugs and other critters for birds to snack on.
Instead, focus your efforts on building a brush pile. Start with a foundation of larger logs, then layer branches, leaves and other yard trimmings over the top. This will shelter birds from sleet and snow showers, as well as provide habitat for small mammals.
If you’re lucky, American tree sparrows, black-capped chickadees and other winter birds may find refuge in your brush pile, according to the Audubon Society.
Winter birds also have trouble finding clean water sources that aren’t frozen over. Take a shallow pan no more than two inches deep and keep it filled with fresh water. Toss a few small pebbles or stones into the pan so the birds can gauge how deep the water is. You should leave the pan in a sunny area if it’s a particularly cold day, so the water doesn’t freeze as quickly.
Warblers and cranes may head south for the winter, but many birds stick it out in the Northwoods. Following is a list of birds that may winter in Wisconsin.
- Northern Cardinal. Keep your feeder filled with black sunflower seeds, and you are sure to attract the beautiful northern cardinal. Year-round residents, both males and females sing, a sure way to brighten up a winter day.
- Tufted Titmouse. The charming tufted titmouse with its gray crest is partial to sunflower seeds but will also eat peanuts and other seeds. Keep an eye out to see what happens when they get a large seed; they’ll carry it to a tree limb or other perch and crack it with a few whacks of their bill.
- Black-Capped Chickadee. The black-capped chickadee eats a lot in the winter—20 times more than in the summer. Keep your feeders full of sunflower, safflower and nyjer seeds and put out some suet to help this inquisitive little bird make it through the winter.
- Bald Eagle. Winter is a great time for eagle watching. When lakes and rivers freeze over, bald eagles congregate in large trees along shorelines where dams and power plants provide open water where they can fish.
- White-breasted Nuthatch. Offer up large nuts like peanuts and sunflower seeds, and you’re likely to attract the agile white-breasted nuthatch. Keep the nuthatch and all the birds you feed healthy by cleaning your feeders regularly, discarding soggy or icy seed and letting them dry before refilling.
- Downy Woodpecker. Downy woodpeckers prefer suet, but they aren’t so picky that they’d turn down sunflower seeds, millet or peanuts. Place your feeders near shrubs, trees or other protective cover to keep them and the other birds you attract safe from predators.
- Snowy Owl. Snowy owls breed in the treeless Arctic tundra, so when they come down into our Midwestern states, they seek out the same open expansive habitat. Look for them in farm fields, near airports, over large wetlands and along coastal areas.