Season 3 Preliminary Results and Stats

By Nick Anich October 3, 2017
2017 checklist locations

Here are all the checklists plotted on a map, representing over 30,000 individual locations. The red squares are atlas priority and specialty blocks, so you can see which blocks have sightings and which still need coverage. View it really big here.

Well, we are past the halfway point! We now have three years complete, and only two years of field work to go.

Again, our first order is to bestow a HUGE THANK YOU to the now over 1,400 atlasers who have contributed to Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II to date. This project would not be possible without you.

We just released this cool infographic and a DNR news release highlighting results through Season 3, but let’s dig even deeper into this year’s results to get a better understanding of the impact of our efforts.

Number of Species Confirmed

We have now recorded 239 possibly breeding species, and confirmed 224 of those, which already brings us near the 237 possibly breeding species and 226 confirmed species reported by Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas I (WBBA I; 1995–2000).

New Species Confirmed this Year

This year we added one species that was not confirmed during WBBA I , King Rail. At least one pair nested at Horicon Marsh, and was seen by many. King Rails were detected in several blocks during WBBA I, but not confirmed.

An adult King Rail with its chick. Photo by Janelle Pitula.

We also got a couple species off our back that we had been expecting to confirm, including American Wigeon and LeConte’s Sparrow.

Assorted Interesting Finds and Photo Highlights

Connecticut Warbler appears to be one of biggest decliners, vanishing from the eastern portion of its range (compare Atlas I vs. Atlas II maps). But a couple reports this year indicate they are still hanging by a thread in their southern (Jackson County) range.

Dickcissels irrupted into the state in big numbers in 2017, and were confirmed all the way into the northern tier of counties (compare Atlas I vs Atlas II maps).

Wilson’s Phalarope was confirmed in Brown County
Acadian Flycatcher nesting as far north as Barron County
Peregrine Falcons nested on natural cliffs in Door County
Evening Grosbeaks feeding young in Vilas County
Boreal Chickadee feeding young in Iron County
Gray Jay juveniles in Bayfield County
Pine Siskin gathering nest material with snow on ground in Forest County
Piping Plovers nested again this year in Ashland and Brown County
Eurasian Collared-Doves pushing north, here in Rusk County

Here’s a Great Gray Owl photo taken by a trail camera in July on Otter Island in Ashland County. It’s unclear if this bird nested, but birds have nested historically in the Apostles. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Cute Baby Bird Photos

Yes, we made a special category, just for you.

Ruddy Duck cuteness in Dunn County
Hooded Merganser cuteness in Dodge County
Spotted Sandpiper cuteness in Milwaukee County
Eastern Screech-Owl cuteness in Winnebago County
Some baby birds are cuter than others!

Yet to be Confirmed

We are now down to only 1 species confirmed in more than 2 blocks during WBBA I that we have not yet confirmed in WBBA II: White-winged Crossbill, a finch that breeds in northern conifer bogs, but primarily after irruption years. If an irruption does not occur during the period of this atlas, it’s unlikely we’ll get them as breeders. Maybe this will be the year?

There remains a list of very rare breeders found during Atlas I that we have not yet confirmed (number of WBBA I confirmed blocks in parentheses, zero means it was a possible or probable breeder in WBBA I):

Northern Pintail (2)
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (2)
Yellow Rail (2)
Barn Owl (2)
Philadelphia Vireo (2)
Worm-eating Warbler (2)
Nelson’s Sparrow (2)
Lesser Scaup (1)
Western Grebe (1)
Snowy Egret (1)
Great Black-backed Gull (1)
Great Gray Owl (1)
Western Kingbird (1)
Rusty Blackbird (1)
Eared Grebe (0)
Tennessee Warbler (0)
Bay-breasted Warbler (0)
Wilson’s Warbler (0)

But compared to some of those rare breeders, we’re just as likely to find another first state breeding record – What will 2018 bring? Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Prairie Warbler, Chuck-will’s-widow, Tennessee Warbler, or some other unexpected surprise? See our previous story about the likeliest new species and keep your eyes peeled!

Progress to Date

Here are a few maps showing our progress so far. This is the breakdown of  species by county (including only species that got at least an H breeding code):

It’s important to recognize that the pattern on the map above is related to a number of factors including county size, species diversity present (in general more species in the northern counties) and, of course, how much coverage each county received. Let’s take a look at the effort this year, based on the average hours into each priority block:

You can see that the southeast in general is filling in, but we need lots of help beyond that region. Moving forward, the palest counties are in the need of the most help, so if you live in or travel to these areas, we need your help! Our success in the years to come will depend upon enlisting new volunteers and getting current atlasers to move on from completed blocks to blocks that need effort. If you have been holding out or know of a birder in one of these areas, NOW is the time to step up! If you live in Madison, Milwaukee, or Green Bay, and your local blocks are filling up, please consider traveling to help us finish off a few more. There should still be a needy block near you (check out the sign-up map!)

Overall Progress

Now that we are filling in the state, and most of us have honed our atlasing skills, we’re going to need a laser focus on priority blocks going forward. This off-season, think about where you want to help next season. We need all the help we can get covering priority blocks – every birder in the state needs to be out birding specifically in priority blocks this summer. While we have a good start in a lot of blocks, we still have about 900 blocks to finish and only 2 years to do it!

Where to Find Data Year-Round

All these statistics, as well as species maps, are available on the Explore Data tools Explore Data tools within the Atlas eBird website. We encourage you to poke around yourself to learn more about which species are breeding near you and where the gaps in coverage are. One reminder that the totals are still preliminary; there are errors displaying that have not yet been corrected, and a few hidden species which are not tallying, which is why the total tallies may not match what is reported elsewhere.

Top Atlasers

And lastly, just for fun, here’s the top atlaser (by number of species confirmed) in each county. These are just a few of the very dedicated atlasers helping us all across the state. Great work, folks!


Again, A HUGE THANKS TO ALL WHO ATLASED THIS YEAR! Here at Atlas HQ, we will continue sifting through the data and preparing for the next season.  If you’ve still got a backlog of checklists, it’s not too late to buckle down and get those records in!

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