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Birds of Wisconsin

Study Reveals PFAS Contamination in Wisconsin Bald Eagles

by Samuel Garduño, age 16

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemical compounds, more commonly known as PFAS or forever chemicals, are odorless and tasteless compounds known to be produced in the US since the 1940s. What many people don’t realize, however, is that they are significantly more common than speculated. They are found in our air and water; stain-resistant materials, clothing, carpets, nonstick cookware, food packaging, firefighting foam; and so many other everyday essentials. Although PFAS are extremely common, scientists are still learning all of their effects.

Wildlife isn’t exempt from the threat of PFAS. Although testing has prioritized bald eagles, Wisconsin has also examined other wildlife, including fish, deer, waterfowl, and small mammals. Bald eagles are a prime candidate, as they are an apex predator of the food chain and a prized, almost sacred, animal amongst the American public. Since bald eagles are at the top of the food chain, their blood will show a presence of PFAS, metals, pesticides, and contaminants that amass through indirect and direct exposure. What happens in the environment parallels what affects humans.

Wisconsin’s private and public water systems have been tainted with traces of PFAS, although scientists don’t know the source. Biologists at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery started researching the effects of PFAS on mussels in the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes. The hatchery has been partnering with an outside lab that already has experience with chemical testing, but lab testing PFAS is time-consuming. Eight to ten samples have been shipped a month, but mussels take ten months to grow and three years to show conclusions. Megan Bradley, a biologist at the hatchery, hopes the lab testing will aid in establishing water standards as well as identifying PFAS contamination sources. For instance, the Wisconsin River was the most contaminated body of water identified by the eagle testing, but the source remains unknown. [Read More]

The Northern Harrier Is a Small Hunter that Lives in Wisconsin’s Grasslands

by Sofia Zapata, age 14

There are many animals in Wisconsin, but many people may not have heard about northern harriers.

The northern harrier is similar to a hawk and it is the only harrier in North America. Northern harriers have an owl-like facial disk that allows them to hunt by sound, as well as by sight. All northern harriers have a white rump patch. Adult male harriers are gray, while adult females and juveniles are brown.

This species is often found in fields and marshes during nesting season. However, they also live in many kinds of wet and dry open terrain, where there is good ground cover. [Read More]

Endangered Bird Species Makes a Comeback in Wisconsin

by Sofia Zapata, age 13

The Kirtland’s Warbler was one of the first birds that were on the endangered species list, created in 1973. This type of bird is a gray and yellow songbird, they are a beautiful and unique species.

The habitat of the Kirtland’s Warbler is in forests and grassy areas located in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Canada. During winter, these birds migrate to sunny places like the Bahamas. When they fly back to the U.S., they stop to rest in forests and marshes.

The primary conservation concerns are habitat loss or degradation and parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds. Partners in Flight, a conservation organization for birds, estimates the global breeding population at 4,800 individuals and rates the species a 16 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which is a rating given to endangered species. The group lists Kirtland's Warbler on the Yellow Watch List for species with restricted ranges. [Read More]

You Can Find the Beautiful Ruby-Throated Hummingbird in Your Own Backyard

by Sofia Zapata, age 12

Have you seen any Ruby-throated Hummingbirds flying in your neighborhood recently? They are commonly seen in Wisconsin, but usually only during the warmer months. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the only breeding hummingbird in eastern North America. In the bright sun, these beautiful, tiny, precision-flying birds sparkle like gems, then dart away to their next food source.

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird has fascinating attributes that make their tiny physical futures unique. Their wings flap up to 55 times a second at a relaxed pace. However, when a hummingbird increases their speed while moving forward, they flap 75 times a second. The wings of this hummingbird aren’t the only things that go at a fast pace. The tiny hearts of these birds beat 225 times per minute and can increase to 1,250 beats per minute. Compared to hummingbirds, the human heart averages from 60-100 bpm. This is to put the physical abilities of the ruby-throated hummingbirds into perspective.

Hummingbirds are the only birds that are able to fly backward. This species is one of the biggest aerial migrators. During their migration season, they travel across the Gulf of Mexico, and it takes them around 18 hours to fully cross. Once they arrive at a safe place, they create a nest that is the same size as a small walnut. A fun fact about the male hummingbird is that it weighs the same as a penny. Male hummingbirds begin to mate during spring by flying and chasing their mate. Afterward, when the nest is made in a tree, the females will begin to lay around two eggs. [Read More]

Barn Owl Sightings Increase in Wisconsin, but
the Future of this Iconic Bird Remains in Doubt

by Juanes Palma, age 9

In 2018, a unique species of barn owls were reported for the first time in over two decades in Wisconsin by The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The owls were spotted in September of 2018 as a pair of these birds were found in the cavity of a dead tree. Recently, there has been an increase in barn owl sightings in Wisconsin and other near states.

These creatures usually live in the dark and are known for their white heart-shaped faces. There are about 46 different known species of barn owls around the world. Scientists have studied these barn owls through the small pellets that are coughed up after they eat their prey. These pellets contain indigestible parts of the owl’s foods such as skulls, bones, and fur. Using owl pellets, researchers have learned a lot about their diets and the ecosystems they belong to.

The chests of male and female barn owls are a distinguishing feature. Female owls have a faint red patch on their chest. The patches might reflect the female's quality of health. Females with darker red patches tend to catch fewer catch parasitic flies and have a more resistant immune system. [Read More]

Wisconsin Wonders, The Great Egret's Migration Journey

by Lina Al’Quraishi, age 9

One of the first things people notice about the Great Egret is its long neck, but there is more to know about it besides its heron-like features. The bird's body is mainly white with black legs. They have bright yellow bills with some green coloration extending from the bill to the eyes. They can also have bright yellow eyes with big black pupils.

Great Egrets eat a variety of foods. When they hunt, they will eat anything they can fit into their mouths to survive. This typically includes small mammals, frogs, small fish, and more.

The Great Egret is the largest egret species. They live on Mexico's coasts and in South and Central America all year round. In the spring, they make their way to northern regions – Wisconsin, Iowa, and other parts of the midwest – where they breed in shallow water, ponds, artificial lakes, and canals. [Read More]

Rare Roseate Spoonbill Sighted in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Astonishing Birding Community

by Mariama Bah, age 16

A mysterious bird, described as a pink football on short stilts, was recently spotted alive in Green Bay for the first time. Its unexpected appearance generated excitement within the Wisconsin birding community, marking the return of a bird that had long been absent from the region.

On the morning of July 26th, Logan Lasee, a Bay Area Bird Club member, was monitoring endangered piping plovers in the Cat Island restoration area when he noticed something pink that immediately caught his attention.

The roseate spoonbill, typically a shoreline bird, is usually found in Texas, Florida, and South America. However, its historical range in the United States suffered a severe decline in the 1860s due to the overhunting of wading bird colonies, driven by the demand for their pink plumage for women's hats. Roseate spoonbills primarily inhabit coastal marshes and lagoons and sustain themselves on crustaceans like prawns and shrimp, contributing to their distinctive pink coloration. They can reach heights of up to 32 inches and boast an impressive wingspan spanning 50 inches. [Read More]

The Short-eared Owl Is a Year-long Resident of Wisconsin

by Edwin Torres, age 12

The Short-eared Owl is an owl species that is native to Wisconsin, Canada, and other northern parts of the U.S. Fortunately for those looking to spot them, the Short-eared Owl lives all year round in those areas. This owl can travel long distances. People have reported sightings that are hundreds of miles away from land.

A Pueo is a subspecies of a Short-eared Owl only native to Hawaii and resides on several Hawaiian islands. It is believed that the Pueo might have descended from Native Alaskan ancestors.

A Short-eared Owl has very short ears, which are difficult to see. Despite this, they have really good hearing. Their sharp hearing can be useful when hunting animals, especially smaller ones. A very visible physical attribute of the Short-eared Owl is its black-rimmed yellow eyes. This owl also has a pale face and rounded wings. [Read More]

How You Can Help Save Our Songbirds

by Mariama Bah, age 16

Since 1970, the North American bird population has declined by 30%. Bobolinks and Canada jays—among others— are rapidly disappearing from Wisconsin’s spring soundscape. But this trend is reversible, with a little help from the public.

Recently, the Wisconsin Bird Conservation and the Natural Resources Foundation partnered to start the campaign Save Our Songbirds (SOS) to combat the decrease of many bird populations.

The campaign asks Wisconsinites to do three things: fix problem windows, buy coffee grown in bird-friendly locations, and grow native plants that are good for birds. [Read More]

Bah on Birds: The Piping Plover

by Mariama Bah, age 14

Sandy beach shores and tidal flats are where the Piping Plover can be found nesting. Charadrius melodus is known for its small sand-colored body. They are hard to identify until they start running, when you can see their white underbelly and bright orange legs. The plovers eat a diet of insects, spiders, and crustaceans that are native to the environment around them.

Efforts to save the Piping Plover started in 1985 with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and recovery plans developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Now there are multiple research centers—private and public—that serve the Piping Plover and are devoted to protecting the avian species. But there is still a long way to go. [Read More]

Learn How to Help Wisconsin Pollinator Populations for a Blooming Ecosystem

by Camila Cruz, age 15

Many people undervalue our pollinators, but about 87% of flowering plants worldwide depend on them. And there are many ways we can help support them, from letting lawns grow to avoiding pesticides.

Pollinators are creatures that go from plant to plant to consume nectar and pollen. In doing this, they spread the pollen, helping plants reproduce. Pollen is necessary to fertilize plants. Some of the most popular pollinators in North America are hummingbirds, moths, flower flies, beetles, bees, butterflies, and, in the southwestern parts of the U.S. and Mexico, nectar-feeding bats.

Pollinators are very important to the environment and ecosystem. In the U.S., around 150 food crops depend on pollinators. Unfortunately, the population of pollinators is decreasing because of habitat loss, pests, nutritional deficiency, insecticides, and extreme weather events. [Read More]

It’s an “Interruption Year” in Wisconsin:
Snowy Owls Are Moving South

by Mariama Bah, age 15

Keep your eye to the ground and be careful when you’re walking in the Arctic Tundra, because you may find a snowy owl nesting site. Treeless, wide, hilly spaces are where snowy owls prefer to nest and hunt. These owls mainly eat small mammals, but their diet can range from rodents and rabbits to ducks and geese.

North of the Arctic Circle is home for snowy owls during most of the year. During a typical winter, small groups of owls migrate into southern Canada and northern Wisconsin. Every handful of years, however, an “interruption” occurs. During those years, large numbers of snowy owls move south as far as the southern United States. Reasons for this odd behavior are unknown.

Wisconsin is seeing its first interruption year since 2018 right now. More than 150 snowy owls have been spotted with reports coming from counties all around the state. [Read More]

Cardinals in Wisconsin: These Beautiful Birds are Moving North

by Allison Torres, age 13

Northern cardinals are highly valued and favored songbirds in North America. These birds typically nest in Northern Wisconsin, along with parts of Minnesota and even Canada.

Cardinals generally avoid the south of North America and stay up north, mainly for the mass abundance of sunflower seeds which is a popular bird feeder. A cardinal’s eating period mainly occur in early morning and late night. As prey, they try to camouflage to hide from their predators. Aside from sunflower seeds, cardinals feed on insects, berries, and vegetables. In the colder months, cardinals travel in flocks to find more food.

During non-winter seasons, males and females usually raise their offspring together in nests hidden in bushes. [Read More]

Wisconsin's Year-Round Birds

by Ruben Becerril Gonzalez, age 10

Have you heard of some of Wisconsin’s year-round birds? Today, I’m going to talk about the American Robin, Mourning Dove, and Song Sparrow.

To start, the American Robin is Wisconsin’s state bird. These birds are gray and brown on their upper body and top and have orange bellies. They have darker brown or black heads with white spots to highlight their eyes. Their beaks are yellow and their tails are medium sized. The American Robin’s size can range from 7.9 to 11 inches long and have wingspans as big as 15.8 inches. When it comes to their diet, robins are very picky! They typically like chopped apples or mealworms. Throughout the year, Robins like to live in shrubs, snow, and even woodlands!

Next is the Mourning Dove. These birds have a more rounded shape. They are mainly gray with tan wings, but their belly and breasts have specks of white and tan. Their heads have a light white color. In addition, they have sharp short beaks. [Read More]

Citizen Scientists Track Hummingbirds in Wisconsin

by Camila Cruz, age 14

You should consider yourself lucky if you see a hummingbird, and especially lucky if they are close enough for you to hear them.

The noise of a hummingbird comes from its wings, which move very fast. A hummingbird’s wings move about 75 times per second.

Cynthia Bridge, founder of the Western Great Lakes Hummingbird Project, is one of three hummingbird banders in Wisconsin. “They are the most incredible to experience when they hover near your head in the garden, where you can hear the humming of their wings,” she said. [Read More]

News from the Nest: Three New Peregrine Falcons Hatch in Downtown Madison

by Mariama Bah, age 14

Since 2015, peregrine falcons Trudy and Melvin have been nesting at the Blount Generating Center owned by Madison Gas and Electric (MGE). Three chicks hatched in May and were named and banded on June 3rd. MGE decided to name them after the neighborhoods that surrounded them when they were born. The male falcon was named Willy, after Williamson Street. Willy’s sisters, Jennifer and Brearly, were named after Jennifer Street and Brearly Street.

In the 1950s, peregrine falcons were a fairly common species in North America. But by the 1960s, their population was declining quickly. Scientists discovered this decline was due to the widespread use of DDT, an effective yet harmful insecticide used in gardens and on farms. The DDT directly affected the food-chain and falcon physiology. Specifically, it caused the birds to lay fragile eggs and ignore their young. [Read More]